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Butler's Choice


11 November 2000IAAF Consultant Mark Butler gives his views on the hot favourites in Veracruz.

Men

Paul Tergat’s string of wins at the World Cross Country Championships may have ended for now, but Veracruz gives him an opportunity to start another. He defends the title he took last year in Palermo, and is a great favourite to be successful. Like Paula Radcliffe in the women’s race, Tergat will be keen to sweep aside the frustration of Sydney, where he lost the 10,000m gold after the closest finish ever in an Olympic long distance race. At the half marathon distance he is seemingly as dominant as he was in his cross country heyday. Whichever way you look at it, he holds the world best with 59:17 in Milan in 1998 or 59:06 on a slightly downhill course this year in Lisbon.

Three places behind Tergat in that Lisbon race was a teenager who might provide the Kenyan’s stiffest challenge - Faustin Baha. The young Tanzanian, 13 years younger than Tergat, clocked 59:38 in Portugal. He followed up with half marathon victories in Nice, Gothenburg and South Shields, where he set off at a sub-one hour pace before being slowed by the cold and wind. Ominously, Baha appears to have taken a break from his heavy racing programme to prepare for this World Championship race. Ethiopia’s representatives include the man who won bronze in this race in 1999 and subsequently broke his national marathon record - Tesfaye Jifar. He and Baha may well be the only ones to stand in the way of a Kenyan sweep. Even the slowest Kenyan entered - John Gwako - has a best of 61:00 though note that Joseph Kimani (best of 60:04) was forced to withdraw injured from last month’s Chicago Marathon. With three to score, Kenya will be favourites to win back the team title they last took in Kosice 1998. Only one European placed in the top 12 last year in Palermo, and it may be a similar story in Veracruz, though Antonio Peña (ESP) and Abdellah Béhar (FRA) have the opportunity of building on their the great breakthrough they each have made this year at the full marathon distance.

Ones to watch

Athlete Age Personal Best Notes
Antonio Peña ESP 30y 61:48 (1992) 2nd in 2000 Berlin Marathon
Tesfaye Jifar ETH 23/24y 61:51 (1999) 3rd in 1999 World Half Marathon Championships
Abdellah Béhar FRA 37y 61:30 (2000) Made impressive marathon début this year in Paris (2:09:13), but sidelined in Sydney with appendicitis
Toshiyuki Hayata JPN 32y 60:42 (1996) Former holder of Japanese half marathon record
Philip Rugut KEN 23y 60:00 (2000) Clocked exactly one hour to place second in this year’s Copenhagen to Malmö Half Marathon
Paul Tergat KEN 31y 59:06 (2000) Defending World Half Marathon Champion. Five successive World Cross Country titles between 1995 & 1999
Andrés Espinosa MEX 37y 61:16 (1999) Central American marathon record holder
Motshei Meoketsana RSA 30y 61:22 (2000) 8th in 2000 Berlin Marathon
Matthias Ntawulikura RWA 36y 61:40 (2000) 15th in Sydney Olympic Marathon
Faustin Baha TAN 18y 59:38 (2000) Holds world junior best for half marathon. Winner of this year’s Great North Run  

Women

She has won World Championship silver medals in each one of the past three years. Now, Paula Radcliffe has a golden opportunity to go one better on the Gulf of Mexico. Since her battling fourth place in the Sydney Olympic 10,000m, the British runner broke the European Half Marathon record in a race where she had not even intended for go for a fast time. Radcliffe’s 67:07 in South Shields on October 22 is by far the fastest of those on the preliminary entry list for Veracruz, but in terms of experience in road races, she is behind several women of the field and none more so than Lidia Simon. The 27 year-old Romanian took the Olympic marathon silver after producing a strong finish where she gained 20 seconds on the leader in the final three kilometres. Simon placed second in the 1996 World Half Marathon then finished third in each of the next two years. She also has bronze medals from the last two World Championship marathons and, like Radcliffe, will be hungry for an individual gold. In the absence of three-time Champion Tegla Loroupe, the top African challenger seems to be Kenya’s Susan Chepkemei. She placed third in the 2000 World Cross Country long course race, two positions ahead of Radcliffe. She recently ran Derartu Tulu to one second at a half marathon and won the Marseilles 20K by more than 90 seconds. Her team-mates are Milkah Chepkieny and Pamela Chepchumba, who is not related to Joyce Chepchumba but is the sister-in-law of Loroupe. Without Tulu, Ethiopia have a young squad headed by Abebe Tola, who recently won the Amsterdam marathon. However, she was defeated in the Ethiopian trial race by the little-known Aster Bacha.

Mizuki Noguchi - second to Loroupe in Palermo 1999 - spearheads a strong Japanese team including Yukiko Okamoto, who recently won the Japanese 10,000m title and this year broke the Yamaguchi Half Marathon course record with 69:12. There’s no doubt that the crowd’s favourite will be former New York Marathon winner Adriana Fernández, but her excellent season dimmed somewhat following her 16th place in Sydney and 13th in New York.

Ones to watch

Athlete Age Personal Best Notes

Abebe Tola ETH 22/23y 68:48 (2000) Winner of 2000 Amsterdam Marathon
Paula Radcliffe GBR 26y 67:07 (2000) 1999 World 10,000 silver; silvers at World Cross Country Championships in 1997 & 1998
Mizuki Noguchi JPN 22y 68:30 (1999) Silver in 1999 World Half Marathon Championships
Pamela Chepchumba KEN 21y 71:03 (2000) Winner of 2000 Guadalajara Half Marathon, at altitude
Susan Chepkemei KEN 25y 69:10 (2000) 2000 World Long Course Cross Country bronze
Adriana Fernández MEX 29y 71:44 (1996) Twice Pan-American 5000 Champion
Stine Larsen NOR 25y 69:28 (2000) Broke Grete Waitz’s Gothenburg Half Marathon course record in 2000
Cristina Pomacu ROM 27y 68:09 (1998) World Half Marathon silver medallist in 1995 & 1997
Lidia Simon ROM 27y 68:34 (2000) 2000 Olympic Marathon silver medallist
Lidiya Grigoryeva RUS 26y 72:23 (2000) Sydney Olympic 10,000 finalist (9th)

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