year old Kenenisa Bekele might have made the headlines last year in Dublin, when won both the short and long course races at the World Cross Country Championships but this year he will have his work cut out just defeating his own teammates let alone the rest of the world’s best, at the 31st IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Lausanne (29-30 March).
Gebregziabher Gebremariam, in particular, will present the greatest challenge to Bekele’s gold defence. The 18-year-old (10/09/1984) won the World Junior 8km race in Dublin last year, and has since been in impressive form. He and Sileshi Sihin are the only athletes to have actually beaten Bekele in the last eighteen months, when Gebremariam won (Sihin, second) the Great Ethiopian Run in November 2002.
Also, in Bekele’s absence due to illness, Gebremariam produced a tremendous finishing burst in the last 100m to win the Ethiopian National Cross Country Championships earlier this month.
Add to this equation Bekele’s fitness, given his recent bout of typhoid, and you get the feeling that Gebremariam might be able to better the reigning World champion.
However, national team physician Dr. Ayalew Tilahun says that Bekele is now ready to mount his title defense. “Kenenisa is a very strong athlete and I think he will come out of his recent problems easily.”
Endalk Kelemwork, Ethiopian Athletics Federation's Technical Director, is another one full of confidence for Bekele - “He has got great mental determination along with his tremendous ability.”
Anyway there is another Ethiopian man with double plans. Hailu Mekonnen stormed into the limelight in 1999 by winning the World Junior Cross Country title and then in the winter of 2000 breaking the World 2-Mile Indoor best. Though in the last year or so, he has somewhat faded away after a series of injuries, he but gave an indication of his return to top form when winning the 4km race and finishing fourth over 12km at the Ethiopian trails.
“I have been training very hard for this and with the help of God, I want to run at both distances,” confirmed Mekonnen.
The women’s events in Lausanne are wide open given the withdrawal of last year’s long course champion Paula Radcliffe (GBR), and Ireland’s Sonia O’Sullivan. As such, Ethiopia’s women will be hoping for the country’s first cross country gold in the women’s division since 2000, when Derartu Tulu took the long course honours.
Athletes to look out for, include last year’s short course runner-up Werkinesh Kidane. The diminutive 21-year old has looked unbeatable in the last year, winning the Great Ethiopian Run, and finishing 1st and 2nd respectively, in the 4km and 8km races at the Ethiopian trails. She has been registered to take part in both 4km and 8km races in Lausanne, and remains optimistic about the challenge. “It will be a difficult race in Lausanne,” she admitted. “But we have trained well, and with the help of God hope for a favorable outcome.”
Little-known Meselech Melkamu won the Women’s junior race in the Ethiopian trails and she is one of the athletes expected to do well in Lausanne. Add to that the experience of Merima Denboba (senior long course), and youth of Tirunesh Dibaba (Junior race), and Ethiopia’s women will be expecting to come home with much more success than they have managed in the last two years.
Elshadai Negash for the IAAF
Official Ethiopian Team for Lausanne
12km Senior Men
4km Senior Men
4km Senior Women
8km Junior Men
6km Junior Women
8km Senior Women