Kenenisa Bekele, Haile Gebrselassie, Paavo Nurmi, Emil Zatopek? Who do you think is the best endurance runner in history?
Alberto Salazar says in the latest issue of AW that Kenenisa Bekele is probably, in his opinion, the greatest distance runner in history. It is an eternal debate – when it comes to racing on foot over distances ranging from one mile to the marathon, who is the best?
There are lots of worthy contenders – from the original marathon man Pheidippides to Paavo Nurmi, Emil Zatopek, Haile Gebrselassie and, of course, Bekele.
Everyone has their personal favourites. As well as being mesmerised by the British supermilers of the Eighties, I had a big soft spot for Joaquim Cruz, the bronzed Brazilian who won the Olympic 800m in 1984.
Growing up in the north-west of England, the Rossendale runner Dave Lewis was also my hero. Like Cruz, he managed to beat Coe too – indoors over 3000m at Cosford – not to mention Steve Ovett in a track race, while other achievements included winning the English National cross-country title three times.
When it comes to women, the No.1 performance is surely Paula Radcliffe’s world marathon record, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this week. Yet the greatest female distance runner of all time is surely Grete Waitz.
Ultra-distance enthusiasts will claim the feats of Yiannis Kouros and, more recently, Kilian Jornet are more impressive than Bekele’s world records over 5000m and 10,000m. Indeed, it is almost impossible to compare the performances of someone who races over 100 miles to athletes such as Coe, Herb Elliott or Hicham El Guerrouj who compete over one mile.
Trying to judge athletes from different eras is also an impossible job. But, if pressed, I would name Gebrselassie as the greatest.
As well as multiple global titles and world records at 5000m and 10,000m, the Ethiopian’s range saw him win world indoor 1500m gold before becoming the fastest marathoner in history. Then there’s his amazing durability, not to mention charisma.