From the Archives: Bolt vs. Bekele


As the 2015 World Championships, were concluding, I heard one commentator speculate about how 100 and 200 gold medalist Usain Bolt would fare against 5k and 10k gold medalist Mo Farah in a 600m race. (Or maybe it was 500m, but it was clearly intended to be the “crossover” distance where the two would be competitive). When I heard that, I experienced deja vu, because back in 2008, there was a fairly serious discussion of having Bolt face the world’s most accomplished distance runner at the time, Kenenisa Bekele, at a “neutral” distance. Seven years ago to the day, I critiqued that suggestion, and am reposting that critique since it seems apropos today applied to Bolt v. Farah.

[First published September 4, 2008]

Bolt v. Bekele? That’s a TERRIBLE Idea!

Would the two most celebrated track athletes from the World Championships agree to race each other at a neutral distance? According to USA Today, there is talk of staging a match race between Usain Bolt and Keninisa Bekele at a distance between 600m and 800m:

Bolt might run exhibition race against 5k, 10k champ Bekele

As a betting proposition and outright spectacle, the idea must have a lot of appeal. Usain Bolt has achieved a level of celebrity rarely seen for a track athlete. Bekele, though less flamboyant and less well-known, is perhaps the greatest distance runner of all time.

And debates about how a sprinter would fare against a distance runner probably date back to the first time homo sapiens drew a line on the ground with a stick and said “race you to the tree across the field…”

But as much fun as it is to think about, wouldn’t this actually be a terrible race? Wouldn’t both runners looks somewhat… well, HUMAN… racing over a distance that favors neither? Why would we want to see Bolt run through 600m and then start struggling? Why would we want to see Bekele fall 20m behind at the start? Wouldn’t such a race diminish the stature of both runners?

Oh, I get it… this is a plot by the distance runner to grab some of the fame from the sprinter. This is also the way it always is — the sprinter is “the world’s fastest man” and gets all the glory and really high-profile endorsement opportunities; the distance runner feels resentment so he points out to everyone that if the sprinter were forced to run a lap or two longer, well, all that speed wouldn’t do him any good against the transcendent aerobic fitness of the 5K/10K guy.

It’s a trap, Usain, it’s a trap! Don’t take the bait, no matter how much they offer you. if you decide to run the 400, that’s great. Train for it and set a WR there, too, but don’t get suckered into a middle distance race against Bekele. Even if you win, it won’t be pretty. Even if you manage to hold off the hard charging Ethiopian, that aura of invincibility will be gone, the perfect stride breaking down and dissolving in a flood of lactic acid.

About Jon Waldron

Running and Racing have been important parts of my life for as long as I can remember. I ran Track and Cross Country at Amherst HS, back in the day, and am proud to have been training and competing with the Cambridge Sports Union (CSU) for more than thirty years. If my bones hold out, I hope to continue for another thirty. Sixteen years ago, I began coaching, first as an Asst. Coach at Newton North HS in Newton, MA, and for the past ten years, as Head Track and Cross Country Coach at Concord Academy in Concord, Massachusetts. I've been writing about running for almost as long as I've been running, dating back to high school, when I would write meet summaries for the Amherst Record for about $0.33 per column inch. I've been blogging about running since 2005, and began blogging at "the runner eclectic" in 2014. Until recently I also had a day job, working full-time as a Technical Product Manager for Nuance Communications, based in Burlington, MA. But I am now on what might turn out to be a permanent sabbatical. Thank you for reading my blog, and please consider leaving a comment.
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1 Response to From the Archives: Bolt vs. Bekele

  1. Robin says:

    What if the offer were a 5K between Bolt and YOU?

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