Ethiopian Juniors benefit from Wami's experience
16 March 2000 - Vilamoura, Portugal - Ethiopian girls have lifted the last two junior women individual and team titles at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships and it will be no surprise to many pundits if they notch up a hat trick of triumphs in Vilamoura.
Much of the credit is due to the Ethiopian coaches who, smarting from finishing behind bitter rivals from Kenya for much of the 1990s, instituted new policies to bring about more consistent success other than just relying on individual stars such as Derartu Tulu to shining brightly.
But the reigning world cross country champion Gete Wami has also had a hand in the triumphs of Yimenashu Taye in 1998 and Werknesh Kidane last year.
"I've talked to them a lot and told them about what happened to me in the past," Wami explained.
"When I first started running at a high level there were not so many Ethiopian women who I could turn to for advice, only Derartu Tulu, so I hope these girls learn about things quicker than I did."
Wami passes on not just training and race ideas but also her vast experience about what happens at big international meetings in what might otherwise be strange and intimidating environments - vital and practical advice for a young athlete who has not competed outside her own country.
"I really started by helping Yimenashu before she won in 1998, because I knew her quite well and we had trained together," Wami commented.
Another to benefit from her advice was Merima Hashim, who finished sixth in last year's junior women's race and was the third scorer in the gold medal winning team.
"This year I expect the Ethiopian junior women to do very well again, especially because Werknesh is still eligible to run in the junior race. She will be very hard to beat," she added.
Kidane stands an outstanding chance to become the first junior woman to retain her title since the event was first contested in 1989.
"However any team success depends on individuals, rather than any special team tactics. Unlike the Kenyans, we don't have quite the same strength in depth in our team. Success depends on the individual athletes themselves rather than executing a particular plan because although we have great runners, one or two may have a bad day and then the plan fails," Wami admitted.
"I was surprised a little bit by the junior teams success in Belfast. Usually Ethiopian runners, especially juniors, do well on flat and dry courses - which is one of the reasons I am saying 'watch what will happen in Vilamoura'," Wami added ominously.
The country with the biggest ambition of dethroning Ethiopia is, of course, Kenya. Kenya has won the junior women's team trophy on eight of the 11 occasions it has been contested, as well as lifting the individual title on four occasions.
The most prominent member of this year's squad is the Kemelit Primary schoolgirl Alice Timbilil, who at just 16 won the 1999 Kenya 10,000m title on the track.
Timbilil triumphed despite a background which seems austere even by the standards of many fellow Kenyans and Ethiopians. She lives in a mud hut with a traditional thatched roof with no electricity, phone or running water.
At the time one Kenyan newspaper described her success with the headline 'Timbilil Slays Giants' and a visitor from the respected US magazine Track and Field News recently noted her school was so proud of her achievement that a copy of the paper still hangs outside her headmaster's office.
If Timbilil restores Kenyan pride and beats Kidane on Saturday, to add another world title to the IAAF World Youth 3,000 gold medal she won last summer, you can be sure that more space on her school walls will have to be found.