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Athletics: Running in big footsteps

It is not easy being the younger brother of an athletics icon but Tariku Bekele has handled things admirably.

Tariku Bekele (1657) was trailing his brother (1662) in the 2008 Olympics, but he was the one to win bronze in London   Photograph: Getty
Tariku Bekele (1657) was trailing his brother (1662) in the 2008 Olympics, but he was the one to win bronze in London Photograph: Getty

Moreover, he has constructed a resume that would be the envy of many world-class distance runners.

Most impressive is the Olympic 10,000 metres bronze medal he earned in London 12 weeks ago, as well as a gold from the 2008 IAAF World Indoor 3000m. At the age of 25, the Ethiopian may finally be emerging from the shadow cast by his big brother, the legendary Kenenisa Bekele, a three-time Olympic champion and current world record holder at both 5000m and 10,000m.

Today, Tariku will race 10 miles through the streets of Portsmouth along with 25,000 other Bupa Great South Run entrants. He faces two- time world marathon champion Abel Kirui of Kenya, Ireland's Alistair Cragg as well as Scotland's Andrew Lemoncello as he continues his recovery from long-term injury.

It is the latest in a series of road races Tariku is using to break up the monotony of training. He hopes this is the first step towards gold medals at both the 2013 IAAF World Cross Country Championships in March and the world outdoor championships in Moscow next summer.

Though his career has been primarily built on the track from an early age – he was the 2006 world junior 5000m champion – lately he has also been proving his versatility on the roads. On September 16, he beat a spectacular field, including the reigning Olympic and world 3000m steeplechase champion Ezekiel Kemboi, to win the 100th edition of the Giro di Castelbuono 10km in Sicily.

Two weeks later, however, he suffered a calf strain during the Lisbon Half Marathon and finished a disappointed sixth in one hour, two minutes and 59 seconds. It was an injury that had the Great South Run organisers concerned, but he resumed his twice- a-day training with Kenenisa in Addis and the muscle now appears healed. However, he is clearly not as fit as he would like.

"My condition is not perfect but my goal is not this race," he says. "I have many plans for the future also. Last year I tried to do my best at the Olympics. I got the bronze medal so this is my beginning. Maybe this next year I will try to do more.

"For Sunday I am just focused on winning. There are no big athletes in the race, only Abel Kirui, and he is a marathon runner. I want to try to win the race and not have to run too fast."

Immediately following the Olympics Tariku took two weeks off to recover from the busy summer season, delaying his preparation for autumn road and cross country racing. As usual his brother played a large part in the decision.

"Kenenisa has given me much advice," he says. "You know he has had a big role in my life even before when I was a student. When I came from our village to live with him in Addis he gave me advice to start running with him. I follow him. I take what he says to me seriously. He is my hero in my life. He has a big voice. I respect him very much."

One bit of advice he has rejected, thus far, is investing his money in business ventures. Though his brother is constructing hotels, cinemas and even an athletics training facility outside Addis Ababa, he doesn't want any distractions at this juncture.

"I don't do business at this time," he says. "I just focus on racing. I want to run fast times to get good results. My goal is just to focus on running, not on business. I saw my brother Kenenisa in business. He loses his mind every place. Maybe he is not happy to control both running and business together. It is not good to do them together."

Tariku sees himself running at the Rio Olympics four years hence. Besides wanting to run under 12:50 for 5000m next summer he also would like to dip under 27 minutes in the 10,000m. His personal best of 27:03.24 was set in finishing behind Kenenisa at the Ethiopian trials in Birmingham. That's not a bad time considering this was only his first season running the distance.

Still, these are seemingly modest targets considering the elder Bekele holds the world records at 12:37.35 and 26:17.53. Tariku, himself, served as pacemaker in the 10,000m trial, taking his sibling through the first 5000m in 13:09. While the constant comparisons with his brother can be tiresome he is clearly content in meeting his own objectives in the sport. And he has come to terms with his lot in life.

"Maybe Kenenisa and me are very different because he has bigger talent than me," he says. "This is nature. Maybe I follow him in training and races but he has bigger talent. It is difficult for me to be like him. Maybe I have a different situation and tactic for the future. If I can be healthy I will try to do my best this year."

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