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For Bekele, Lion of Ethiopia, a Nation Shares Its Sorrow

Bekele decided to run in Boston, and when he took his place on the track, his hair still short, a moment of silence was observed for Techale. When Ireland's Alistair Cragg surged with two laps of the race left, Bekele followed and began what was intended to be a last lap kick, forgetting another lap remained. He lost to Cragg.

"What constantly occupies my thoughts and emotions is the tragedy," said Bekele. As he was rushed past spectators, Tsedaye Bekele, a fan who is not related, patted him comfortingly, calling out, "It's all right, you're still the anbessa" -- the lion.

That night, Beyene and others invited Bekele to an Ethiopian restaurant, where Beyene, addressing the gathered crowd, praised Bekele's competing despite the tragedy. "That itself is a victory," he said, "Your sorrow is our sorrow."

"I didn't come with joy in my heart," said Bekele after thanking his hosts. "I thought it might ease the burden of sorrow. I was in no rush to compete. But even if I wait a year, I cannot bring her back. People all over the world, not just in Ethiopia, suffered with me, and worried I wouldn't return to competition soon, and that motivated me to come out and reassure my fans."

Back in Ethiopia, Bekele arranged the traditional memorial ceremony held 40 days after a death. He competed in Birmingham, England, five days later, losing the two-mile race. "He's still suffering," his brother, Tariku Bekele, a world-class junior runner who interrupted his own training to pace his brother there, said at the time.

In a gesture of faith in a country flush with top distance runners, the Ethiopian athletic federation selected Kenenisa Bekele to race both world cross-country championship events without contesting the trials.

About 2 1/2 weeks before the March 19-20 world championships, Bekele entered the demanding team training camp.

"The first few days, he showed signs of fatigue," team coach Hussein Shibo said. "He worked morning and afternoon to correct what was necessary. With about a week left, he began to show marked improvement."

The environment also helped Bekele emotionally. "As he mingled with us, eating, drinking together, traveling together by car, he slowly began to recover," said Shibo.

At the world championships in St. Galmier, France, Qatar's world steeplechase champion Saif Saaeed Shaheen pushed the pace in the 4-kilometer race, but Bekele, gritting his teeth, flew past to victory.

The next day, in the 12-kilometer event, Bekele battled Kenya's world 5,000-meter champion, Eliud Kipchoge, before dropping him on the final lap, sealing Bekele's fourth world cross-country golden double and his legacy as arguably the best cross-country runner in history.

Bekele spent the final stretch of the race waving and blowing kisses to the crowd, and was later congratulated by Ethiopia's ambassador to France.

"In the past I faced competitions as two people, with my friend Alem by my side," said Bekele. "I did this alone, with grief and joy alternating in my heart . . . grief that the whole world shared with me. . . . I expect that this is joyful not just for me, but for everyone."

He likely will next race in the Netherlands in May, building up to the August world track championships. In 2003, he won gold in the 10,000 but placed third in the 5,000 and avenging that defeat had been high on his list of goals for 2005 before the tragedy.

He's still grieving but the cross-country championships marked a milestone in his healing.

"People had worried 'Kenenisa won't be the same,' " he said. "Praise God, I am holding up."


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