19 March 1999Monte Carlo The 27th edition of the IAAF World Cross Country Championships is shaping up to be one of the greatest ever both for the quantity of participating countries and athletes and their quality. 70 teams will make the trip to Belfast for the weekend of March 26 -27 with 342 men and 233 women contesting the senior races and 168 men and 127 women the two junior races. As usual, Kenya have the strongest teams on paper but one individual entrant is a surprise, namely Noureddine Morceli, the Olympic 1500m champion and world record holder for 1 mile and 2000m. The Algerian, entered for the mens short course race, has not taken part in the World Cross Country Championships since 1989 when he finished 26th in the junior race. Since then he developed into one of the sports all time greats, and was ranked number 1 in the world for the mile and 1500m every year between 1990 and 1996. With the emergence of Hicham El Guerrouj, who broke his world record for 1500m last summer, Morcelis star may have waned but his presence in Belfast is still a boost to the organisers. Among the other favourites are Ethiopias Million Wolde - last years Junior Champion who won a World Indoor silver medal at 3000m in Maebashi and any of the Kenyans. Although last years champion John Kibowen will not be in Belfast, Benjamin Limo, James Koskei, Paul Kosgei, John Kosgei, Daniel Gachara and Stephen Rerimoi will be aiming for a medal. Spain, whose 4km team includes track aces Isaac Viciosa (3:30.94 for 1500m in 98) and Manuel Pancorbo (7:31.59 for 3000m in 98), will be the dark horse in the team contest.
In the mens long course event, the question is whether Paul Tergat can win an historic 5th consecutive title. He has raced sparingly this season, and was beaten by Paul Koech in the Kenyan Championships. The other Kenyan representatives are Tom Nyariki, Evans Ruto, Patrick Ivuti and Joshua Chelanga. The Kenyans will need to fight off the challenge of Moroccos Salah Hissou, who pushed Tergat to his limits in a memorable race in Turin two years ago, Spains Fabian Roncero, who was Europes fastest marathon runner last year (2:07.26), and South Africas half marathon specialist Hendrick Raamala. With the non-participation of last years double winner Sonia OSullivan and fellow Irish marathon star Catherine McKiernan, the womens races are particularly open. Kenya have strong teams as do Ethiopia, with Morocco entering only a short course team to try and retain the title they won in Marrakech. Gete Wami is perhaps the favourite in the long race, but she will be up against Switzerlands Anita Weyermann (entered for both races) and the Briton Paula Radcliffe who will be desperate to improve on the silvers she won at Marrakech and Turin. In the short race, Moroccos Zahra Ouaziz, who finished second to Gabriela Szabo at 3000m in Maebashi two weeks ago, will be the woman to beat.