StEtienne, FranceAt midday today at the Geoffroy Guichard Stadium, the home of the ‘Les Vertes’ the football team of this former coal mining centre in central France, the official press conference took place to launch the 33rd edition of the IAAF World Cross Country Championships which takes place this weekend in St-Etienne/St-Galmier (19-20 March).
The occasion was hosted by IAAF President Lamine Diack, who was joined by General Secretary Istvan Gyulai, the President of the French Athletics Federation and Local Organising Committee, Bernard Amsalem, and LOC Co-Presidents Pierre Toussaint and Frédéric Augagneur.
“Personally, it is a great pleasure to return to France with the World Cross for the first time since 1990, since this country has a marvellous tradition at this unique – magnificent athletics discipline,” said the President.
“France is one of a handful of IAAF Member Federations who have taken part in every edition of the IAAF World Championships since 1973, but it also important to remember that French athletes were also present at the very first “International Championship” in cross country running which took place in 1903 in Scotland. Ever since then, France has really embraced the special and challenging nature of cross country competition.”
“Cross country has changed totally since the early days when a few European athletes dominated, but although African athletes are now the ones to beat, we can still look forward to a truly international festival this weekend, with athletes from every corner of the globe chasing for honours in both individual and team competitions."
"Since the first IAAF World Cross in 1973, participation of athletes and participating countries has more than trebled, which shows the increased global reach of our sport. The IAAF has received entries from 74 different Member Federations, and we expect a total of 450 male athletes, and 335 women, entered for the various races – long race (men and women), short course (men and women) and juniors (men and women).”
It was also confirmed that at these championships there will be over 100 blood based anti-doping tests carried out, and because this is a distance running competition particular emphasis will be placed on the search for the use of EPO.
“Moving away now from the statistics of the competition, I would like to pay a special tribute today to one athlete, Ethiopia’s Kenenisa Bekele, the 2004 World Athlete of the Year....As you all know, Bekele suffered a great tragedy earlier this year when his fiancée, Alem Techale, 2003 World Youth Champion at 1500m died of a heart attack during training. I would like to take his opportunity to pay tribute to her memory, and also to personally remind Kenenisa that all of us in the World Athletics Family were touched deeply by his loss. I am very touched to see that, even in this very difficult period of mourning, Kenenisa has come to support the World Cross Country Championships. We appreciate that very much."
Naturally, Kenenisa Bekele (ETH) was one of five athletics stars who joined the dignitaries this afternoon. The three times double World Cross Country champion, World and Olympic 10,000m champion, and World record holder 5000m and 10,000m, was joined on the platform by Benita Johnson (AUS) - reigning Senior Women's long race champion; Eliud Kipchoge (KEN) - World Champion and Olympic bronze medallist at 5000m, World Junior record holder at 5000m, and former World Junior Cross Country champion; Bob Tahri (FRA) – joint European Record holder for 3000m Steeplechase, Olympic and World finalist at the Steeplechase; Driss El Himer (FRA), 2:06 PB for the Marathon, and 2001 World Cross long race 6th place finisher.
Here are the quotes of the defending champions:
Benita Johnson (Women’s long race) –
“I go into every race and try to win whoever is there. It doesn’t really concern me whether my opponents are Africans or non-Africans."
"I am really looking forward to tomorrow, it will be fantastic. It is going to be my toughest competition (of this year) and I am really going to go out and try to beat them (the Ethiopians and Kenyans).”
“Yes Tirunesh (Dibaba) will be a very tough opponent but there are many other girls out there, who are just as likely to win as her and I can’t wait to run against them. I am going to have run my best to win.”
Kenenisa Bekele (Men’s short and long race) –
“I have to accept the things (death of his fiancée) that have happened to me this year and bear it with my family. I have been advised by my family and friends that I need to concentrate on my work and continue my training. As you know I raced indoors (lost twice) and with little training the result was not that bad. So I come here (St-Etienne/St-Galmier) knowing that I must compete for my country, and run to my best ability for my team mates.”
“My being here will give a lot of spirit to my team, and by working together we can achieve a good result as a team.”
“I am a strong athlete and have done the double on many occasions before, and I can confirm that at the moment I am entered for both races, and I am going to run both races.