Little Ethiopian town a home of champions

BEIJING - Bekoji is a small and modest town perched on top of an Ethiopian plateau, but when it comes to its Olympic Games record, it boasts more trophies than several developed nations.

BEIJING - Bekoji is a small and modest town perched on top of an Ethiopian plateau, but when it comes to its Olympic Games record, it boasts more trophies than several developed nations.

The entire town had gathered around four television screens set up in cafes to watch Tirunesh Dibaba win the 10000m final in Beijing, confident that the town's latest prodigy would add her name to a growing hall of fame. She did this in a new Olympic record time of 29min:54,66sec.

"It didn't come as a surprise, I never doubted her victory in the first place," said Sintayehu Eshetu, a veteran coach who once trained Tirunesh in Bekoji as part of the town's youth programme.

After calmly staying in silver medallist Elvan Abeylegesse's slipstream for most of the race, Tirunesh switched on the turbo in the last lap and breezed to her first Olympic victory.

"There was enough competition nonetheless," adds Sintayehu, proudly looking at his former protégé posing for photographs on the cafe's TV screen as locals chant and cheer.

At the nearby Tola cafe, rapturous fans rose to their feet for a standing ovation as Tirunesh embarked on a lap of honour, wrapped in an Ethiopian flag amid camera flashes and the cheers of the enthusiastic Beijing crowd.

l Michael Phelps paid tribute to Mark Spitz after breaking his fellow US swimming legend's record of seven gold medals at a single Olympics, saying it had provided the inspiration he needed to keep going through day after day of gruelling training.

Spitz's mark, a record across all Olympic sports, had stood for 36 years since his stunning display at the 1972 Games in Munich.

But a statistic many considered would never be surpassed was topped yesterday by Phelps, after he played his part in the victorious American 4x100 medley relay team to win his eighth gold in Beijing, seven of which were achieved in world record times.

Responding to a reporter quoting Spitz's comment that while what he had done in 1972 was the equivalent of being the first man on the Moon then what his successor had achieved made him "the first man on Mars", Phelps simply said: "Records are always made to be broken, no matter what they are."

l Tunisian Oussama Mellouli won gold in the men's Olympic 1500m freestyle yesterday, less than three months after completing a ban for a doping offence.

Mellouli has steadfastly maintained his positive test for amphetamines was an honest mistake and the man he beat for gold yesterday, Australian Grant Hackett, refused to rein on his parade.

Mellouli, who was banned for 18 months for testing positive to amphetamines, won the gold in 14min:40,84sec by a body length.

l Softball's campaign to get voted back onto the Olympic roster appears to be having little effect on the people that matter with only a handful of the International Olympic Committee's 110 members attending a game at Fengtai Field designed to drum up support for the code. - Reuters and Sapa-AFP

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