ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) — Kenenisa Bekele says he took up distance running because of the achievements of the great Haile Gebrselassie. He now wants to prove he's better than his idol.
Bekele, the world record-holder and former Olympic champion over 5,000 and 10,000 meters, believes he's overtaken Ethiopian compatriot Gebrselassie when it comes to track, but there's still one more test: The marathon.
The 31-year-old Bekele is following Gebrselassie's path by stepping up to the marathon. He announced he'll make his competitive debut over 26 miles at the Paris Marathon on April 6.
While Bekele said his track record was "better than any other athlete," Gebrselassie set world records in the 5,000, 10,000, half marathon and marathon to build a reputation as one of the most complete distance runners ever.
Bekele believes he's on the way to surpassing his countryman.
"If you want to compare, just take a look at the races I won and the medals I received," Bekele said. "Haile has run for a long time with a great achievement and I have got a huge respect for him. But ... no one has broken my (5,000 and 10,000 meters) records so far. I think it is clear that my achievement in those track races is better than any other athlete."
That may be so, but Gebrselassie's impressive legacy was his ability to succeed at distances ranging from 1,500 meters right up to the marathon. Now 40, Gebrselassie is still competitive.
It's clear that Bekele is eager to move out of the shadow of a man still regarded as Ethiopia's best, and one of the best ever. To do that, Bekele probably has to succeed in the marathon. He said he hadn't needed any advice from Gebrselassie on the move up.
"You don't need to be influenced by others to do what you wanted to do for a long time. And Haile is and was not telling me to run this or that. So, I made this decision myself," Bekele said.
Like Gebrselassie, Bekele has also shown signs of his ability to win off the track and at longer distances with a history of success and world titles in cross-country. He also won his first competitive half marathon last year, beating both Gebrselassie and current 5,000 and 10,000-meter Olympic and world champion Mo Farah of Britain.
Buoyed by that debut at the Great North Run and a victory over two major rivals, Bekele said he'll immediately target the marathon world record of Kenya's Wilson Kipsang in the French capital, even if the course is notoriously tough for record-setting results.
"I understand that the Paris Marathon has a difficult course to break a world record," he said. "But I at least will try to achieve a good time if an attempt on the world record is not met."
He's fit again after a "very challenging" struggle with a calf injury that spoiled his 2012 Olympics.
Bekele has also targeted a meeting with Farah as another test of his status. They are the only two men to have held the Olympic and world 5,000 and 10,000 titles at the same time.
However, Bekele isn't ready to say whether he'll run the 5,000, 10,000 or the marathon at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics. That will likely depend on the outcome of his switch to the marathon.