thousand run in a day to give Ostend course the going over
Sean Wallace-Jones for IAAF
19 March 2001 - Over a thousand Belgian athletes competed Sunday on the course of the forthcoming 29TH IAAF World Cross Country Championships.
What would have been a dry run before the championships was anything but, as gusting winds off the sea coupled with rain and temperatures just above freezing point to make the Belgian national trials a true test of endurance.
Last Sundays competition involved everyone from school kids to the seniors in a veritable cross country-fest that ran virtually non-stop from 9.30 am to 4 in the afternoon. Heat following heat in a daisy chain of races watched by thousands of local enthusiasts and proud parents shouting their encouragement and who often stepped in to massage their youngsters aching limbs after the races.
Cross country is big time sport in Belgium and is preceded only by football and cycle-cross in the winter popularity stakes.
The attendees at the nationals were rapturous despite the tough weather conditions and gave some measure of the support that can be expected the weekend of 24-25 March, when the worlds best will battle their way around this same course, laid out on the Wellington Hippodrome.
According to IAAF Competition Director Sandro Giovannelli, who followed Sundays programme, the course will be demanding, with a fair amount of mud in the bends creating problems for the competitors.
"It is more demanding than Dublin," commented Giovannelli, " the course is relatively flat, but the surface is not as smooth as in Dublin, there are some pretty tight bends and these are very muddy in places."
"Couple this with relatively long grass throughout and we have all the makings of a traditional "mud and guts" course that will have the Championship contenders giving of their utmost."
Whilst the course will be tough, the rest of the competition organisation is proceeding exactly according to plan, despite the three short weeks that the local organisers have had to step in and take over from Dublin.
"It really is a credit to the Belgium Federation, their local partners, the Ostend Tourist Board and the organisers of the Ivo van Damme Memorial. They have all stepped in to fill the breach since Dublin had to cancel and they have really done a great job, " said Giovannelli.
Rendezvous at the Hippodrome Wellington, Ostend, Belgium 13.05 pm on 24 March for the start of competition.