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Some men build a basketball court in their driveway or convert their garage into a recreation room but Kenenisa Bekele has gone to another extreme.
The 5, 000m and 10, 000m World Record holder has built a six lane all-weather track in the picturesque district of Sululta, which lies just 25 minutes outside the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, and at an altitude of 2750m. Across the road, he has also constructed a 30-room hotel that will house athletes wishing to take advantage of Kenenisa’s ‘field of dreams’.
Another 80-room hotel will be completed within the next six months. This one stands a few hundred metres away and is another part of a vision that Kenenisa, a three-time Olympics champion, has for supporting athletics in his native Ethiopia.“I am so happy and proud of this,” said Kenenisa, during a tour for foreign visitors of the impressive facilities.“It is not easy to build a track, financially. You have to have money to spend. You can try to make money back but I don’t care about making money from this track. It was an expensive venture. With the ground work, and everything, it has cost me $1.5 million. It was very tough to do for one athlete.” After winning four consecutive IAAF World Championships 10000m titles, three Olympic gold medals and eleven IAAF World Cross Country Championships, Kenenisa suffered a series of calf injuries which he believes were exacerbated by training on the hard surface of the National Stadium in Addis Ababa.
As a result, he and his manager, Jos Hermens, consulted with the Dutch company GCC Sport Surfaces to manufacture a softer surface that would be beneficial to distance runners. Kenenisa, now 30, first leased a large plot of land and then began the excavation process. Mounds of dirt still surround the track. At the moment, the track is six lanes, but Kenenisa says there is still room to add two more so they can host higher-level competitions in the future. Seating isn’t planned but terraces will be fashioned to accommodate spectators.
“From the beginning, I planned to have a sports centre and a camp,” explained Kenenisa. “It is also very important because our track (in Addis Ababa) was not up to par. It was a hard track for long distance runners. You can suffer injuries if you consistently train on it; that’s why I wanted to build this track.
“My plan was to build phase-by-phase, but I finally decided to build it all at once, because I also need it for my own training. I had been injured for a long time; that’s why I planned to build it. We have started to invite athletes who want to train on the tracks, both local and foreigners.” The official opening will be next month, in January 2013. Kenenisa hopes to recoup some of his investment and says athletes may rent rooms for short-term or long-term use. The cost will likely be between $50 and $60 a night, including meals.Kenenisa points to the nearby Entoto mountain range which rises to 3200m above sea level and says that it is also possible to run 20 miles on the forest trails in the mountains. There are woods along the flat terrain, immediately behind his hotel, where cattle and goats graze. Local runners pass them without fear.
Kenenisa is clear about why he chose the Sululta area for his ambitious project.
“I train four or five times a week here, sometimes twice a day. This is a very beautiful area. It’s a very safe place. If they (other runners) want to train in the mountains they can easily do that, as they are nearby. There is a flat area too. Everything is fantastic.”
“It is also very close to the city, only about seven to 10 kilometers out; the air is very clean; it is surrounded by mountains and it is flat and very green. There are a lot of trees which makes it a fantastic place for training. So that’s why I chose it. It is a special place for me.” Not surprisingly, there are other benefits to training at the ‘Kenenisa Camp’.
“Of course, of course, I will guide them,” he promised, “I will train with them and share my experience. They will see the reality when they train with me; if they will!” With that, Kenenisa laughed and set off on a run through the nearby forest.