Edinburgh, ScotlandEthiopia’s Kenenisa Bekele, the dethroned 10-time senior men’s World Cross Country champion, will be hoping for a smoother passage towards regaining his crown tomorrow than the journey he endured today into Edinburgh.
Travelling to Scotland for the 36th IAAF World Cross Country Championships, Bekele missed his flight connection at London Heathrow after a delay to his original Ethiopian Airlines flight from Addis Ababa left him with only 30 minutes to connect in London. His delay was unrelated to the widely-publicised teething problems at Heathrow’s new Terminal 5.
Bekele – ‘My fitness is good’
Bekele, who was now due to arrive in Edinburgh this afternoon, said that he was unperturbed by the delay. “I have a lot of experience of the course here in Edinburgh, and have won the annual race here on three occasions, so my travel delay does not worry me.
“I was always planning from the beginning to arrive late in Edinburgh, so although this even-later arrival wasn’t planned this way, I’m comfortable arriving the day before the competition. I love the city and the crowd are always very encouraging, so I look forward to running. My fitness is good. I have run this year three times, twice indoors and once cross country, and have won each time.”
The 25-year-old Bekele, who already holds a record 15 World Cross Country gold medals, the record number of individual golds (11, including one junior), and the record total (25, comprising 15 gold, 8 silver, 2 bronze), is seeking a record sixth senior long-course title. Many of his gold medals were taken from the short-course championship, which was discontinued after 2006, and the record for the greatest number of classic long-course triumphs (5) is shared between the Ethiopian and two Kenyans: John Ngugi won five titles between 1986 and 1992 and Paul Tergat five in succession from 1995 to 1999.
Tadese – ‘I am prepared’
However, Bekele failed to finish in Mombasa last year, when Eritrea’s Zersenay Tadese took the title. Asked whether he feared Tadese here, Bekele said: It’s not a matter of fearing anyone. I just run my own race.” Bekele gained a small measure of revenge by beating Tadese in a close finish in the BUPA Great Edinburgh International Cross Country on 12 January.
Tadese said that he is “ready for this competition”, adding that he had prepared in Eritrea, away from his track-season preparation base in Madrid. Of the contrasting weather expected, compared with the high heat and humidity of Mombasa, he said: “In African countries like Eritrea, Kenya and Ethiopia, we have cold and hot. I know the course and it was cold (in January). I think it is no problem.
“Kenenisa is a strong athlete but I am prepared for this competition.” On the inexperienced Kenyan team (five athletes making their senior World Cross Country debut and seven aged under 22), Tadese said he would not discount them. “If they are Kenyan athletes they are strong,” he opined.
Dibaba aiming to leave Mombasa memories behind
Bekele’s fellow Ethiopian, Tirunesh Dibaba, is also seeking to regain her senior crown. Having done the short/long course double in 2005, and won the long course title in 2006, she finished runner-up last year to Lornah Kiplagat, of The Netherlands. “Mombasa was very tough because of the weather,” Dibaba reflected today. “Let alone winning, it was very difficult to finish the race.”
Although Dibaba retained her 10,000m world title in Osaka last summer, she encountered problems with stitch. “I never had the problem before,” she recounted today. “Osaka was difficult. I had a stomach stitch and I didn’t think I was going to win. The problem was ongoing and that is why I didn’t compete a lot last season.”
Geoff Wightman, the LOC chair, said that two years of planning had gone into what will be 90 minutes of racing. “It was Christmas 2005 that we started talking about moving on from the European Championships that we had here in 2003 to bidding for the World Championships, and we’re ready,” Wightman said.
“All the preparations are in place and it’s started already because we had a coaching conference last night that was packed to capacity. There were tickets for that being sold on e-bay.” And, he added tongue-in-cheek: “So I am always pleased to see a black market develop in athletics as it begins its fight-back!” He continued: “We had a great reception for the public partners who have enabled this event to come to Scotland with the IAAF council members at the (Edinburgh) Castle last night.
“But, ultimately, it boils down to those 90 minutes. We hope to have a vast number of people on the course. It’s free, there are no turnstiles, there’s no ticketing, so anybody can just rock up on the day. The forecast is good and that is an uncommon thing at this point in Edinburgh. The ambition of the LOC is that we not only deliver the best ever World Cross Country Championships but that we show how good athletics can be.”
Ed Warner, chair of UK Athletics, said: “London 2012 (Olympics) is just over four years away and, as things stand – although we hope there may be other opportunities – this is the last athletics World championships on British soil currently scheduled before 2012. It’s a fantastic opportunity for Britain to show what it can do on the international athletics stage both in organising an event and bringing in the crowds, and creating a great advertisement for our wonderful sport.
“Many people will say cross country is the purest form of athletic endeavour. In some way I would love to see the Heavens open tomorrow with hail, sleet and driving wind to create the purest challenge, but I think Geoff Wightman would hope for a bit of sunshine to bring the crowds in!”
European participation down
Of the backward slip in the number of countries competing, Pierre Weiss, the IAAF General Secretary, said: “We will have here something like 64 countries taking part and the biggest ever is 76. What are the reasons? Some teams have been facing visa problems but that is not the main reason. The main reason is we have less Europeans.
“In 1973 (first IAAF World Cross Country Championships) the Europeans were 85 per cent of the participants – it was too much, a European competition not a world competition – but today we are down to 29. This will be the main topic of the cross country committee meeting, which starts tomorrow afternoon and continues on Monday – to see what can be done to revive cross country, mainly in Europe.
On this subject, the IAAF President, Lamine Diack, said: “We have teams coming from Canada, Australia, Japan but not some from here (Europe). This problem will not be solved by an IAAF Committee – it needs to be solved at country level.”
Lord Sebastian Coe, a double Olympic 1500m champion, the chair of London 2012 and one of the current IAAF Vice-Presidents, said: “Coaches don’t see any relevance in the preparation of middle and long distance athletes on the track to using cross country. Cross Country was a standard part of my preparation.
“If you go back down through the annals of distance running – everybody from Carlos Lopes, Haile Gebrselassie, Kenenisa Bekele, Paul Tergat, Noureddine Morceli, Hicham El Guerrouj, Said Aouita – they all used cross country. You rarely find anybody at a European level who thinks there is a correlation between cross country conditioning and track and that is why our standards in distance running are as bad as they are.”
David Powell for the IAAF
----------- Home Countries International
Tom Lancashire and Gemma Miles led England to convincing team victories at the Home Countries International Cross Country meeting in Edinburgh this afternoon (29).
In a build-up event to tomorrow's 36th IAAF World Cross Country Championships at the Holyrood Park venue, the pair were always in command of their races in the first match of its kind to take place since 1990.
Miles took the women's six kilometres title by 17 seconds in 20:30 ahead of team-mate Victoria Wilkinson, with Scotland's Freya Murray third in 20:53.
Lancashire followed her fine display with a much closer win in his 8km race, outpacing Scotland's Tom Russell for victory by three seconds in a time of 24:39 with England's David Webb placing third in 25:14.
Dave Martin PA International for the IAAF