Little more than a month after his last visit to the Polish city of Bydgoszcz, IAAF Ambassador Paul Tergat returned to the venue of the 2013 World Cross Country Championships and the distance running legend - a man who has deservedly earned the nickname Mr Cross Country - was on hand to speak to the media on Saturday (23).
Now 43, Tergat remains a popular figure in the world of athletics 14 years after the last of his five consecutive IAAF World Cross Country Championships triumphs and almost four years since his last competitive outing. He is also a World Food Programme (WFP) Ambassador Against Hunger.
“Personally speaking, it’s great to be back in Bydgoszcz. I was very happy to be invited here for some promotional events last month as it gave me an opportunity to maintain my contact with the sport and have a look at how the preparations are going.
“I must confess, I got a shock when I got out of the plane and saw how much snow is on the ground and later felt how cold it was. The weather was not like this the last time I was here!
“This year’s race will certainly be much colder than any World Cross Country Championships I ran in although, I remember winning in Belfast in 1999 and, in many respects that was my toughest victory at the World Cross Country Championships as it was cold and wet, and the course was very narrow in places.
“This is going to be a very tough race, very challenging, and unlike three years ago, the organisers have brought in a hill.
“The last time I saw something like this was in Boston in 1992, when I was injured and could not run, and that was very cold and the ground was frozen. However, I will say this to all the runners at this year’s Championships, if you have prepared well then you have nothing to fear.
“One of the good things about being in Bydgoszcz is the fact that I have had the chance to meet Imane Merga, who was one of my successors as a winner at the World Cross Country Championships.
“I had never met him in person before but he was a worthy winner two years ago and so I congratulated him and wished him good luck for this year’s race.”
Cross country crucial
Tergat also addressed the issue of cross country training and racing in a long distance runner’s repertoire.
“I believe cross country running is important for any long distance runner, whether you are also running on the track or are moving up to the Marathon.
“If you are a runner and once you start your winter preparation, and you do cross country, my feeling is that you will do well in the coming seasons.
If I had to make a choice between running on the track and running cross country, I would definitely choose cross country. Historically, this is where all the top athletes, from 800m to the Marathon, have met up. It’s a challenge but also it can bring you a lot of joy if you win a cross country title, like I did.”
“Cross Country is one of the most challenging aspects of the athletics calendar, and six men participate in a team at the World Cross Country Championships while only three can compete on the track at 5000m and 10000m at an Olympics; and those other three other men would like to compete in the Olympics so I think it is high time that cross country running is included in the Olympics, it’s a phenomenal event and it deserves it’s place on the Olympic stage.
Tergat turned his attention, as might be expected, to the prospects of his compatriots who will be running in Bydgoszcz.
“I cannot make predictions about who will win but what I will say that when the Kenyan runners come to a race like this, and they are fit, then they are very hard to beat.
“There has been a lot of talk about Philemon Rono, who won at the Kenyan trials. It’s true he is inexperienced internationally, and he is not used to the cold, but I saw him at the trails in Nairobi last month and I was very impressed with him.
“Kenya may not have many well-known names in their squad this year, especially in the senior men’s team, but they have a lot of talent, including the junior men. It is true that these conditions will prove difficult for some runners, so will find it very cold for them, but others will rise to the occasion.”
Phil Minshull for the IAAF