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Wami targets triple cross crown in Ostend

Wami targets triple cross crown in Ostend
Sean Wallace-Jones for IAAF

20 March 2001 - GW are two initials that have marked the World Cross Country Championships since 1978, when the legendary Norwegian Grete Waitz dominated the women’s field with four consecutive cross country crowns.

The current owner of those illustrious initials is of course from much more southerly climes. Gete Wami of Ethiopia has been in the medals at the World Cross Country Championships since 1996, totalling two golds, 1996 and 1999, two bronzes, in 1997 and 1998 and silver in 2000.

On Saturday Wami will be going for her third gold medal and aiming to improve Ethiopia’s record as holder of the individual women’s long cross title for five out of the past six editions. Only Ireland’s Sonia O’Sullivan has been able to break the Ethiopian hold on the title with her victory in Marrakech in 1998.

This time, O’Sullivan will not be competing in the women’s long race – she will compete only in the women’s short race this year – and Wami’s compatriot Derartu Tulu, triple gold medallist in 1995, 1997 and 2000 is sidelined with a knee injury that has troubled her for years. So Wami’s greatest threat will be Great Britain and Northern Ireland’s Paula Radcliffe.

Radcliffe is very much on form and bursting with confidence after winning her first global title at the World Half Marathon Championships last October and will be coming to Ostend straight from altitude training in Albuquerque, New Mexico after a short season of four cross country appearances that has seen her dominate every event.

Wami is also on form after a relaxed season that has seen her concentrating on training and building towards the World Championships rather than following her usual heavy competition schedule. She was, however, the winner of the Ethiopian national trials – albeit in the absence of Tulu.

Wami has been Radcliffe’s Nemesis in past editions of the World Cross. Just as the two have battled endlessly on the track, they have crossed swords on many occasions on the muddied fields of this championships.

Twice Radcliffe has had the uppers of Wami, in 1997 and 1998, where the British athlete took silver to Wami’s bronze, twice Wami has riposted taking gold in 1999 to Radcliffe’s bronze and silver last year, when Radcliffe finished out of the medals in fifth place.

The latest and perhaps the closest encounter in this long-raging amicable war will be played out on the Wellington Hippodrome course on Saturday afternoon.

Derartu Tulu, who won the Olympic 10,000 from Wami, is running in the Lisbon half-marathon and the London marathon in April and will not defend the cross-country crown she took from Wami last year.

Tulu, women's short-course world champion Kutre Dulecha and men's silver medallist Assefa Mezgebu all missed the Ethiopian national trials last month. But Dulecha, fourth in the Olympic 1500 metres, and Mezgebu are both scheduled to compete in Ostend.

Mezgebu finished one second behind champion Mohammed Mourhit of Belgium in Vilamoura last year and has since collected an Olympic bronze medal over 10,000 metres.

Merima Denboba, world cross-country silver medallist behind Wami in 1999, plans to run both women's races in Ostend. She and Ayelech Worku, the world 5000 metres bronze medallist, are entered in the short-course race for which they qualified at the national trials, along with 1999 world junior champion Werknesh Kidane, who won the event in Addis Ababa.

The men's team also includes 1999 world bronze medallist Hailu Mekonnen and national champion Kenenisa Bekele in the short-course race and Habte Jifar and national champion Dejene Birhanu in the long-course.

World junior 1500 metres champion Abebech Negussie heads the junior women's team.

The Ethiopian team:

Men

Long course (12 kms): Assefa Mezgebu, Habte Jifar, Dejene Birhanu, Yibeltal Admassu, Tegena Abebe, Demissie Girma.

Short course (4 kms): Hailu Mekonnen, Kenenisa Bekele, Alemayehu Girma, Dagne Alemu, Bruk Debrework.

Junior (8 kms): Mesfin Hailu, Alemayehu Adela, Maregu Zewde, Tibebu Yihenew, Fekadu Gemeda, Bruk Debrework.

Women

Long course (8 kms): Gete Wami, Merima Hashim, Atalelech Ketema, Eyerusalem Kuma, Leila Aman, Merima Denboba

Short course (4 kms): Kutre Dulecha, Werknesh Kidane, Merima Denboba, Ayelech Worku, Genet Gebregiorgis, Hareg Sidelil, Gete Wami.

Junior (6 kms): Abebech Negussie, Mestawet Tufa, Tereza Yohannes, Tirunesh Debebe, Aster Bacha.