TWO gold medals, snatched with a comet-like burst of speed over the weekend, confirmed the advent of a new sport superstar.

Kenenisa Bekele won both the men's long and short-course races at the IAAF World Cross-country Championships in Lausanne, successfully defending the crowns he had won a year ago.

Nobody else has won both. Now the Ethiopian has done so twice, before his 21st birthday. The second title, over 12,255 metres, was added just 24 hours and five minutes after the first, on Saturday.

It marks him as the greatest exponent in the 100-year international history of the sport.

Whereas the Ethiopian had arrived relatively unknown in Ireland a year earlier, he was a marked man when he lined up on the course at the Swiss Equestrian Centre in Avenches. Yet he triumphed despite the best-laid plans of his Kenyan arch-rivals, who now knew his precise capabilities.

The greatest nation in the history of the sport, with 16 of the possible 22 titles available to them since 1986, Kenya were impotent in the face of his talent, though they did manage to stretch their team title monopoly to 18 years in both races.

Precocity is usually matched by desperate intensity, but Bekele has actually got a life. When we saw him on a Lake Geneva dinner cruise on the eve of the event, his manager implied he had been marooned on board when the vessel sailed.

While rivals prepared with meticulous precision, Bekele was on board for nearly four hours, and did not get to bed until well after midnight. ''I went knowingly,'' he said. ''It was my first time ever on a boat. I did not want to miss it. I wanted to see what it was like. I'm glad I went.''

The admission left rivals gawping. Their credulity, and jaw tendons, were stretched even further when he confirmed he had been suffering from the after-effects of typhoid, contracted less than a month ago: ''The medication can also affect your strength,'' he said.

Benjamin Limo, the Kenyan bronze medallist in the 4000m event 24 hours earlier, was aghast. World silver medallist over 5000m and also runner-up at that distance in last year's Commonwealth Games, Limo said: ''I can barely walk today, far less race.''

Bekele covered the testing course in 35min 56sec, finishing 13 seconds clear of Kenya's Patrick Ivuti with Gebre-egziabher Gebremariam taking the bronze for Ethiopia in 36:17.

Gebre-egziabher Gebremariam means Servant of God, Servant of Mary. Yesterday he was also Bekele's servant, taking the pace and protecting him from the Kenyan cohort. In doing so they broke all but Ivuti, who managed to pick off Gebremariam in the end.

Bekele, who won the junior title in 2001, could point to no specific reason for his success: ''It's a gift from God. Everyone trains hard, but in the end it's God who decides.''

Kenyan Abraham Cherono sacrificed himself by setting a fierce pace, 2:41 for the opening kilometre, and after two of the six laps (3830m, 10:52), only six contenders remained in the lead group, four of them Kenyan.

Bekele made his move at the start of the final lap, and surged up the artificial hill, drawing remorselessly clear, and blessing himself three strides from the line. He covered the last 1705m circuit in 4:53.

The second of six children of a farmer with 20 cattle and 40 sheep, his family subsist on wheat, barley, and the Ethiopian grain staple, tef. Now he will become a millionaire, to rival his mentor, Haile Gebrsellasie. Despite a clutch of world and Olympic titles, and world records, Haile could never win this one.

Bekele has yet to have a track season, because of injury, but aims to do so this year. He will run either the 5000 or 10,000m at the world track championships in Paris, visa permitting. He took a controversial snipe at the blocking of visas for some of his compatriots. ''I was very disappointed to have had that trouble. Embassies in our country have made a lot of problems for athletes trying to get visas, forcing them to arrive late. It affected their performance.''

Sergey Lebid, the three-times European champion, from Ukraine, dropped out at half distance, and the first Brit was Matthew Brown, 49th, nearly three and a half minutes behind. Deena Drossin of the US was the only non-African medallist, second in the women's long race on Saturday.