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Qatar ready to mix it with Ethiopia and Kenya – World Cross Country

Shaheen powers home to 7:53.63 World record in Brussels (Getty Images)Shaheen powers home to 7:53.63 World record in Brussels (Getty Images) © Copyright

MonteCarloIt is natural that the names of Kenenisa Bekele and Eliud Kipchoge seem to automatically dominate the men’s entry lists for the 33rd edition of the IAAF World Cross Country Championships, St-Etienne/St-Galmier, France (19/20 March).

The World 10,000m and 5000m track champions respectively, Bekele and Kipchoge have had some memorable battles on the track at 5000m. At the 2003 World Championships and 2004 Olympic Games, the two shuffled 5000m medals, with the Kenyan coming away with gold and bronze, and the Ethiopian bronze and silver.

Even though last year’s much awaited Long Race joust at the World Cross Country in Brussels turned out to be nothing more than an easy victory parade for Bekele, with Kipchoge an exhausted and distant fourth, any meeting between these two prodigious talents is eagerly anticipated.

Yet in the turmoil and tragedy of Bekele’s much publicised bereavement this January perhaps to talk of such battles is to unfairly promote a contest which may never materialise considering that since his fiancée’s sudden death the previously invincible Ethiopian has been a shadow of his former self.

But we need not worry, as there was another World track champion in the World Cross Country mix last year in Brussels and who like Bekele and Kipchoge returns to do battle again next weekend. The World 3000 metres Steeplechase champion and World record holder Saif Saaeed Shaheen heads an impressive Qatari team for next weekend.

A fifth place finisher behind Bekele in the Short Race in Brussels last March, Shaheen like his seven teammates in 2005 is entered for both the Short and Long Race competitions in St-Etienne/St-Galmier. As such, Shaheen is definitely set to encounter Kipchoge, who is only entered for the Long Race for Kenya, and with Bekele, who is presently entered for both races too.

The Qatari team is not to be underestimated. Last year their team of largely former East African runners surprised the world by taking the Short Race team silver, breaking the Ethiopian (gold) and Kenyan (bronze) monopoly, and is predicted to perform even better in France. The team has been training in the Kenyan towns of Eldoret and Iten for the past two months, and their coach Renato Canova feels Qatar has a better line-up than ever before.

So the 33rd IAAF World Cross Country Championships, St-Etienne/St-Galmier, France is by no means a two-way done deal, either in terms of the individual or team battle for Senior men’s honours. Qatar, ‘The Third Man’ of the World Cross Country Championships is ready to set out of the shadow of the East African favourites and upset the expectations of Bekele, Kipchoge and their respective teams.

Chris Turner for the IAAF
with assistance from David Macharia