Bekele: 'Coronavirus has taught us to be humble'

By Michelle KatamiBBC Sport Africa
Kenenisa Bekele
The London Marathon battle between Bekele and Eliud Kipchoge was widely anticipated

Kenenisa Bekele was more than ready to line up this Sunday for the 40th edition of the London Marathon.

"I was in a very good position and I felt comfortable," Ethiopian Bekele, the world's second-fastest marathon runner, says.

As part of his build up to London, the Ethiopian had won the London Big Half on 1 March - posting a new course record of one hour and 22 seconds.

But the London Marathon is not going to happen - at least, not this April. Coronavirus has taken over.

Nevertheless, Bekele is not so much affected by the postponement of the race, as by the worldwide coronavirus crisis - and the feeling of how vulnerable human beings are.

"I worry about the future. I worry about the famine that follows. We are in a lockdown in Ethiopia, but staying inside is a luxury that many cannot afford," Bekele says.

"But I believe we will survive this storm. Humanity has done it before and overcome many great disasters before. But it will not be easy."

Ethiopia is one of the countries in Africa affected by the virus. At the moment the East African country has recorded 116 positive cases.

It is something that has made Bekele not only speak out, but act. One of Ethiopia's most decorated athletes - he has three Olympic gold medals, two in 10,000m and one in 5000m, and holds the world records in both events - has given out his hotel in Sululta, 25 minutes outside Addis Ababa, to be used for coronavirus patients.

"I hope people can use the rooms that I have in my hotel in Sululta; I have space there," he explains.

"I want to offer them on my costs to help out in this highly contagious and still mysterious virus that is harming the health and lives of people greatly."

Taking action

Kenenisa Bekele in competition
Running in groups is now banned

Bekele says with the global crisis growing rapidly and pressure piling up everywhere, everyone needs to stand for each other.

"My family and I are in a position to help. We have to take responsibility," he argues.

"It is clear that this is a worldwide problem, and that the world is a village. We are all human beings that are equally vulnerable for infectious diseases."

Bekele joins the growing list of sportsmen and women around the world who are giving towards taking measures to help combat the coronavirus pandemic.

He says that athletes owe it to their fans to take action.

"We should give something back and I feel responsible," he states.

"Donate and support the people around us when you can, but also give them moral and encouragement in these difficult times.

"I want also to raise awareness about the corona crisis, and other infectious diseases. I tell people to wash your hands with soap and keep your distance - 1.5 meters from each other - because of the virus."

'Never give up'

Kenenisa Bekele at the Berlin Marathon
Bekele: looks good in front of global landmarks (see also: top image)

Ethiopia has announced a state of emergency with a decree has banning gatherings of more than four people unless there is an absolute necessity.

Because of this requirement for social distancing, Ethiopian athletes can longer train in group.

Bekele says he is feeling the difficulties of this.

"I can only train alone, in the forest close to my family home in Addis Ababa. To go to the stadium for track work is not possible and road work is also difficult," he explains.

"In the morning, I try to run 20-25km in the forest to keep the body fit and to maintain kilometres and regularity.

"I also do cross training at home in the afternoon - with maybe 5-10km on the treadmill, 20 minutes on the cross trainer and 20mins on the bike in my home," Bekele explained his current training.

After the morning training, Bekele spends time helping his three children with their school.

His possible assured race this year will be London Marathon on 4 October - and despite it being a long wait, Bekele says he is not at all demoralised.

"Running is my life and it gave me already so much. I am not done yet for sure. I learned to be patient, because in my career I had periods with severe injury problems. From my humble background, I learned to overcome hardship. I never give up."

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