THE lexicon of sporting super-latives faced the ultimate challenge yesterday in Dublin, when Kenenisa Bikele won his second world cross-country title in 24 hours.
Loading article content
Put simply, these victories added up to the most sensational results since the championships were first contested 99 years ago.
Still young enough to compete as a junior, Bikele added the senior men's 12,000 metres long-course crown to the 4000m short version he had captured a day earlier.
Sonia O'Sullivan won both women's titles when a second event was inaugurated five years ago, but few men contest both races and none had ever previously won both titles.
Haile Gebrselassie, the four-times world 10,000m world champion, and multiple world record holder, is his mentor, and the only man to have beaten him this winter, yet bronze was the closest the Little Emperor ever came to winning either cross-country title. Gebrselassie is moving to the marathon, and the 19-year-old Bikele is being groomed as his replacement.
So hail Haile's successor.
If Saturday's victory over Leopardstown racecourse was predictable, cutting loose late on, to conserve strength, yesterday's success in the blue ribband event was not.
Kenya had the world 5000 and 10,000m track champions, Richard Limo and Charles Kamathi in their line-up. The plan was for others among the squad of six to mount a series of surges, forcing Bikele to cover them, in a game of cardiovascular poker, before launching one of the chosen pair to victory.
Bikele had no team-mate for protection, but he and Ugandan John Yuda set such a savage pace that the Kenyans could not get to the front.
Kamathi, who ended Gebrselassie's world 10,000m reign in Edmonton, said: ''The Ethiopian was too good for us. We had two men detailed to go in front of him, and run it out of him, but they couldn't even get there.''
The modest Bikele, who blessed himself in the final strides, said: ''I did not expect to win by such a big margin. I expected a difficult race.''
Only the two other medallists were within half a minute. Bikele's team manager, Dr Woldemeskel Kostre, grinned and described his protege's double as: ''quite ridiculous. It's fantastic.'' He believes, however, that the teenager is the man to claim the world track records at 5000 and 10,000m, which currently stand to Gebrselassie.
Kenya extended the longest monopoly in international sport by claiming the men's team title to a seventeenth successive year. Mohammed Mourhit, the Moroccan-born Belgian who had won in the past two years, dropped out. So, too, did Ukraine's reigning European champion, Sergiy Lebid. The first 18 finishers were all African-born.
Over the past 10 years, of the 30 team place medals available, African nations have won all but six. The British men's performance was particularly dismal. Sam Hughian, 43rd, was first UK finisher, and only once in the 14 years since a combined UK team was fielded have the men fared worse than yesterday's tenth place.
These two successes were worth a total of $60,000 to Bikele, who was brought up tending the 20 cattle and 40 sheep which sustained his parents and five brothers and sisters.
''I will decide whether to buy a car when I get the money,'' he said. ''I'm learning to drive. It will make it easier to get to training.''
Kenenisa was the second of four boys. The name means ''more'' or ''a lot'' in his native Amharic. We will hear a lot more of this Bikele.
Gebrselassie, building up to his Flora London Marathon debut, won the Lisbon half marathon yesterday in 59min 40sec. He was two seconds clear of South African Henrik Ramaala and six ahead of Kenyan Paul Tergat, who also runs in London a fortnight on Sunday.
Susan Chepkemei won the women's race in 1min 8.23sec with Ethiopia's Berhane Adere just two-hundredths of a second behind, the only non-Kenyan in the first seven finishers.