17 MAR 2005 General News Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Ethiopia’s burden of expectation - World Cross Country

Dejene Berhanu wins the Great North Run (Getty Images)Dejene Berhanu wins the Great North Run (Getty Images) © Copyright

Last year, the Ethiopian National team took fourteen out of the eighteen possible medals on offer at the 32nd IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Brussels, Belgium, which puts an added pressure on this year’s squad because the athletics loving public in the country expect nothing less than a repeat of the triumph in St-Etienne/St-Galmier.

 MEN

Side-stepping the possible fortunes for three-time double champion Kenenisa Bekele which has already been addressed on many occasions this week, there are two Ethiopian men who in particular are in good form, Dejene Berhanu and Abebe Dinkessa.

Berhanu won his second straight Ethiopian short course 4km title at the trials three weeks ago and although he has not been prolific over the mud in the last two years, the 24-year old believes that this year is his best chance to medal.

“In the last two years, I overdid my training before the major championships and felt flat when the competition begun,” Berhanu said. “But this year, I have found the right balance between training and competition.”

Bekele and the tall Ethiopian will be joined in the short course team by Maeregu Zewde (bronze medallist from last year), who remains cautiously optimistic about the team’s chances in France. “It would be very difficult to repeat the Brussels triumph,” he says. “But we are all working hard and sticking together as a team.”

In the long course race, Ethiopia’s hopes lie on Ethiopian 12km long course champion Abebe Dinkessa, who is targeting at least a medal. “I believe I deserve a medal this year,” he says. “Maybe more, but a medal is my main target.”

And of course, there is the challenge of Gebre-egziabher Gebremariam, who took silver in both the short and long course races behind Bekele last year. Rather predictably, the 20-year old also won double silver in the Ethiopian trials, but believes that his date with gold is ‘within his reach’. “Maybe this year, I will finally win gold,” he said. “It would be difficult because of the competition, but we shall see.”

WOMEN

It has been a phenomenal year for Olympic 5000m bronze medallist Tirunesh Dibaba, who just cannot seem to stop winning at the moment. In January, she won the Great Edinburgh Cross Country in Scotland beating World Cross Country long course champion Australia’s Benita Johnson. But the biggest achievement of her season came in Boston when she sliced nearly seven seconds off Berhane Adere’s old World 5000m Indoor record.

Beaming with confidence, the 19-year old won the 8km race at the trials and has been entered to run in both the 4km and 8km races in France, and the World 5000m champion believes that her chance to win her first senior gold is nearer than ever. “Thanks to my training and maturity, I am in the best form of my life,” she says. “With the help of God, I am going for at least one gold medal this year.”  

T. Dibaba will be pushed all the way by World Junior Cross Country champion Meselech Melkamu, who has also been a class apart this season. The 20-year old gave Tirunesh a very difficult race in the 8km at the trials in Addis Ababa only to losing in a sprint finish and believes that a senior medal is achievable this year again. “Tirunesh will be my main challenger,” she says. “But my main aim is to win a medal this year.”

Apart from T. Dibaba and Melkamu, Werknesh, Kidane, 4th long course and 3rd short course from last year, brings experience to the Ethiopian challenge in St. Etienne/ St. Galmier.

Although she is only 23, Kidane has taken part in six editions of the world cross country championships winning no less than six individuals. But for experience and ‘knowledge of the laws of cross country running’, Ethiopia will rely on the vast experience of Gete Wami, the most successful runner in the history of the championships who makes a competitive return to the mud after nearly four years.

JUNIORS

Ethiopia will also be taking a very strong junior team to these championships and focal point of the under-19 team is Gelete Burka, who has been impressive in the cross country season winning in Brussels and the trials here in Addis Ababa.

Solomon Molla, ninth in the junior race in Lausanne two years ago, should provide the experience for the men’s team, while Tariku Bekele, younger brother of Kenenisa Bekele and winner of cross country races this season in Llodio and Elgoibar, will be among the favourites.

Elshadai Negash for the IAAF

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