ATHENS, Aug. 20 -- Propelled by a stunning sprint over the last lap of the Olympic 10,000-meter final Friday night, Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele won the first of what he hopes will be two gold medals in distance events.
Bekele and fellow Ethiopian Sileshi Sihine broke from a pack that included Ethiopia's Haile Gebrselassie, who won the Olympic gold in 1996 and 2000, with about three laps remaining.
When the final bell rang, Bekele took off on a 53-second last lap, leaving Sihine well behind. Bekele crossed the finish in an Olympic record time of 27 minutes 5.11 seconds. Sihine claimed second in 27:09.39, and Eritrea's Zersenay Tadesse finished third in a national record time of 27:22.57.
"It was not as easy as it looked on TV," Bekele said through an interpreter. "The weather was hot, and there also was great pressure in this Olympic Games. . . . The last lap just came to me. I didn't make any special effort, I just wanted to win this race."
Bekele's sprint confirmed what became apparent when he broke Gebrselassie's 5,000 and 10,000 world records over nine days in June: He has replaced his revered countryman as the king of long-distance running. Next week, he will attempt to win the 5,000 for a double that even Gebrselassie never managed.
Gebrselassie, who has been bothered by an Achilles' tendon injury, finished fifth, yet he celebrated joyously with Bekele and Sihine, helping them carry the Ethiopian flag around the stadium.
Bekele acknowledged that he and Sihine slowed the pace at one point, hoping Gebrselassie would keep pace.
"That was the reason we slowed down," Bekele said. "So we could wait for Gebrselassie to catch up with us. When we realized he could not make it, we had to go."
American Abdi Abdirahman finished 15th in 28:26.26. Daniel Browne was 12th in 28:14.53 and Dathan Ritzenhein dropped out with about six laps to go.
Devers Barely Advances
Gail Devers, competing in the 100 spot vacated by banned sprinter Torri Edwards, nearly was eliminated in Friday night's quarterfinals. Devers, a two-time Olympic champion in the event, finished fourth in her heat in 11.31 seconds, failing to earn one of the three automatic qualifying spots.
But the next four fastest in the four heats also advanced, and Devers claimed the last qualifying spot by the narrowest of margins: .01 of a second.
University of Miami's Lauryn Williams finished with the second-fastest time (11.03), behind Belarus's Yuliya Nesterenko (10.99). U.S. champion LaTasha Colander finished 10th in 11.20. . . .
Triple jumper Melvin Lister, apparently distraught over the alleged murder-suicide involving his former training partner, Robert Howard, last week, failed to advance in Friday's qualifying round. Lister, the U.S. champion, finished 18th. The top 12 advanced. . . .
U.S. heptathlete Tiffany Lott Hogan was involved in one of the strangest developments of Friday night at the track and field competition. As she was lining up for her 200 heat, Hogan waived her hand to the judge, requesting a break. As she gestured, the gun went off, and the rest of the field sped off around the track. Hogan stood up, waving her arms, protesting the start. The race, however, counted. Hogan, initially credited with a "did not finish," immediately sought out a referee.
After some consultation, Hogan was allowed to compete in a later heat. After four events Friday, she was in 16th place with 3,634 points. Reigning world champion Carolina Kluft of Sweden was in first with 4,109 points. "She was in the blocks and motioned with her hand," USA Track and Field spokeswoman Jill Geer said. "She pleaded her case with the official. . . . We were ready to file a protest, but we didn't have to."