Brussels, BelgiumEthiopia’s Kenenisa Bekele and Derartu Tulu, and Australia’s Benita Johnson were the athletes at the centre of attention at this afternoon’s IAAF Press Conference held ahead of this weekend’s 32nd IAAF World Cross Country Championships, Brussels, Belgium (20/21 March 2004).
Proceedings in the Salon Memling of the Hotel Le Plaza Brussels, were opened by IAAF President Lamine Diack, who was accompanied by IAAF General Secretary Istvan Gyulai, and the co-Presidents of the Belgium Federation Philippe Housiaux and Eddy De Vogelaer.
Strong references were made concerning the historical love affair that Belgium has had with cross country.
“As long ago as 1923, Belgium first participated in, and then three years later in Brussels hosted the ‘International Championships’ which were the forerunner of the IAAF World Cross Country Championships,” commented Lamine Diack.
“The world’s Athletics family should always remember that Belgium came to our help in 2001 by rescuing the championships when the foot and mouth epidemic forced Dublin to cancel the event.”
“In cold, wet and windy conditions the coastal town of Ostend provided the perfect venue for a traditional ‘mud and guts’ event, out of which first sprung the man already considered as one of the greatest cross country running exponents in history, Ethiopia’s Kenenisa Bekele, who won the junior men’s title and the senior short course silver medal,” the IAAF President reminded the assembled media representatives.
Bekele goes for the double again
Since those 2001 Championships, the World 10,000m champion has pulled off a remarkable set of two double (short and long course) victories in the 2002 and 2003 Championships, and the 21 year-old was pleased to confirm he was going again for double gold in Brussels.
“Yes, it is definite that I will do both. It was my decision and I had no hesitation at all,” said Bekele.
“The decision was taken two weeks ago and was made for three reasons. I have been training so hard and I wanted to test myself and my fitness. Also I have not over-raced this winter, and finally the Ethiopian Federation said ‘yes’ without which nothing would have happened. I am very happy they accepted.”
“Yes, running the World Record indoors for 5000m (20 Feb) has given me extra confidence and a big boost. I am very happy to have run like that indoors.”
You will face Kenya’s Kipchoge, Kibowen, Chebii, Kamathi, Limo, Qatar’s Shaheen, not to mention your own compatriots Sihine and Gebremariam in Brussels. Will this be the hardest weekend of your running career so far?
“Yes, this is a very impressive group of athletes and I have trained specifically to counter them… but I want to stress that my team mates and I have tried to be ready not just for the Kenyans but for all the runners who are here. It will very tough for sure. “
QUOTES FROM DERARTU TULU (ETH) – Reigning Olympic 10,000m champion and former three-time World Cross champion.
“I am really pleased to be back in Belgium, because I have a lot of fond memories of running cross country here, I think I was here for the first time in 1991.”
”I do remember that in the last Olympic year, I was able to win both the cross country title and the 10,000m Olympic title and this year I have decided to skip the marathon and run the 10,000m at the Games in Athens. I have been working on my speed for this, which is why the cross country fits in with my plans.”
”I don’t think you can claim that any single race is harder than another and I certainly take nothing for granted. I think the key thing is to deal with the pressure since that is really the only thing that changes for each event. I was an Olympic gold medallist in 1992 so I know how to cope with pressure now.”
QUOTES FROM BENITA JOHNSON (AUS) – 2003 World Half Marathon bronze medallist.
“I was very disappointed last year when I was in third place in the final straight but faded to fifth. But I have a lot of extra strength now and I am very confident that I can get a medal this weekend. I have entered both races but will see how I fell after tomorrow’s long course race. I have one main goal for the rest of the season and that is the Olympic 10,000m in Athens. But after that, I’d love to run a marathon somewhere, maybe in London because I have a base there.”
“It’s great to be back in Europe because Australia is a nice place for a holiday but not for world class athletics at the moment! There is no alternative but to come over here and mix with the very best.”
”I am proud to be here this weekend and to feel that I can really compete. I think I have gone up to a new level since winning a bronze medal at the last World Half Marathon Championships behind Paula Radcliffe and Berhane Adere. I have much more confidence in myself now.”