Bekele leads Ethiopians in bid for Olympic berths

Running legend Kenenisa Bekele spearheads a group of Ethiopian runners seeking to nail down berths at this month's Olympic Games in London in the coming days.

The 10,000m trial for men will take place in Liege, Belgium, on Thursday, while the 5000m qualifying race for men is set to take place at the Diamond League meet in Paris on Friday.

"We are ready now, we've already had good performances," Dube Jillo, technical director of the Ethiopian Athletics Federation, told AFP.

Reigning Olympic 5000-10,000m champion Bekele will run in Paris, and Dube said that despite suffering from an injury for the last two years, the runner was confident of performing well in the French capital.

"The 10,000m (runners) are very strong athletes. I hope Bekele is in the team," he said.

Ethiopia -- known for a strong tradition of running and athletics -- won four gold medals in the 2008 summer Olympics in Beijing, the other two coming from Tirunesh Dibaba, who mirrored Bekele in claiming a 5000-10,000m double.

Head coach Yirma Berta said he also had high hopes for Bekele, expecting high results for him in the London Games, which kick off on July 27.

"He will fight with our athletes and all the other athletes and he will perform like he did in the last Olympics," Yirma said.

Ibrahim Jeilan, who will be racing the 10,000m in Liege on Thursday, said he has high hopes for his teammates, both at this week's qualifying races and at the Olympic Games, with so many up-and-coming athletes taking part.

"They are younger and new athletes, maybe for this year we have chance to win golds in both men and women's events," he told AFP.

He said he was prepared for his upcoming race, despite being out of training for six months due to an injury. He hurt a tendon and only started training in May, which he said could affect his performance.

"I don't have endurance, I haven't put in endurance training, that may be my problem in my race," he said, adding that mentally he feels ready to run and expects to come in under 27 minutes, required to qualify for the Olympic team.

"I'm feeling better, I am ready for this race, but one week ago I was disturbed, I was worried about injury and about risk. Now I am ready now, I am feeling free now," he said.

Ethiopia has not yet finalized its Olympic team but is expected to announce the full list of competing athletes at the weekend. Only the marathon team has been finalized so far.

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