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Kenenisa Bekele says his best is yet to come

"I train hard, but I've been struggling for a long time with injury. I've never finished my [marathon] training in a good way," said the 41-year-old

Kenenisa Bekele Photo by: Paul Hudson/WC

For the last 20 years, Ethiopia’s Kenenisa Bekele has carved his legacy in distance running, winning three Olympic golds and 19 world championship titles on the track and in cross country. When he transitioned onto roads, his success continued, winning the Berlin Marathon twice and clocking the third-fastest time in history (2:01:41). In recent years, Bekele has acknowledged the difficulty of the marathon, but the 41-year-old believes his best is yet to come.

In an exclusive interview with Olympics.com, Bekele said he isn’t done yet, and that he is driven by the belief that he can excel in the marathon. “I never achieved my maximum effort in the marathon,” said Bekele. “I train hard, but I’ve been struggling for a long time with injury–I’ve never finished my [marathon] training in a good way.”

Berlin Marathon
Bekele winning the 2016 Berlin Marathon. Photo: SCC EVENTS

Bekele’s personal best of 2:01:41 from the 2019 Berlin Marathon stands as the third-fastest time in history, only trailing the Kenyan pair of Kelvin Kiptum, the new world record holder, and Eliud Kipchoge. Despite track and field fans suggesting that his best days might be behind him, Bekele remains undeterred, knowing his potential and what lies ahead in the marathon.

“My mind tells me that I can still do better in the marathon. The Olympics is in front of us…maybe [Paris] will be my last Olympics.

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As Bekele gears up for the 2023 Valencia Marathon on Dec. 3 (known as one of the fastest record-legal courses in the world), he has aspirations to reach the 2024 Paris Olympics. With 43 Ethiopian men already having achieved the Olympic standard of 2:08:10, Bekele will need a time of 2:04:30 or faster to put himself in a position for Olympic selection.

“I know that Valencia is very fast. And [on the entry list] there are many strong competitors from different countries, so the expectations are very high,” said Bekele.

Kenenisa Bekele
Kenenisa Bekele at the press conference at the 2021 TCS NYC Marathon

The Ethiopian marathon team for Paris is rumoured to be selected by January 2024. 

If Bekele can reach Paris, it will be a full-circle moment for one of the best distance runners in history. Paris was the destination where he won his first World Championship medal on the track, and the location of his first marathon, in 2014. 

After two decades with Nike, Bekele recently signed a new deal with the Chinese running brand Anta. The Valencia Marathon will be his first career marathon not wearing the Nike swoosh.

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