Mombasa, KenyaI am very happy to be with you today, on the occasion of the 35th edition of the IAAF World Cross Country Championships, which is taking place in Kenya, for the first time in the long history of this event.
Personally, It is a great pleasure to be here for a World Cross competition because Kenya has dominated long distance running in the past 20 years as no other country in the world has done. They have made a massive contribution to the global development of athletics, which is one of my main missions as President of the IAAF. Although Kenyan athletes are outstanding at track events from 800m upwards, and also on the road, it is cross country that seems to have been their favourite pastime since 1986 when John Ngugi won the first of his 12 gold medals. But there have been other greats like William Sigei, Paul Tergat and Ismael Kirui as well as a succession of excellent women and junior teams. By coming to Mombasa, cross country is certainly “Coming home” as the competition slogan says.
It’s clear that Cross country has changed totally since its origins in the early 1900s when a few European athletes dominated. Today, it is the African athletes who are now the ones to beat, but we can still look forward to a truly international festival tomorrow, with athletes from every corner of the globe chasing for honours in both individual and team competitions. Since the first IAAF World Cross in 1973, participation of athletes and participating countries has more than trebled, which shows the increased global reach of our sport. The IAAF received entries from 65 different Member Federations, and we expect a total of 486 athletes entered for the various races – Long Course and Juniors (men and women). Of last year’s six individual winners in Fukuoka, five are entered for Mombasa, the three Ethiopians Kenenisa Bekele, Tirunesh Dibaba, and Gelete Burka, and the Kenyan junior Pauline Korikwiang.
Although you will have a chance to speak to some stars of the event shortly, I would like to say a special welcome to one of the legends of cross country, Kenenisa Bekele, has changed his mind about retiring from this event. By coming here, and accepting the challenge to take on the Kenyans again in their own garden, Bekele is showing the heart of a true champion, and I am very happy that he has made the effort to come. For me, Bekele is one of the most outstanding athletes in history, and his presence in Mombasa is great news for the sport.
As well as Bekele, we can count on many other individual stars, but should also remember that the added team element at the IAAF World Cross Country always makes it an annual festival of long distance running.
Finally, I would like to say thank you not only to the Local Organising Committee, supported by Athletics Kenya, but to the Kenyan authorities for all their efforts to meet the needs of athletes, spectators, TV, sponsors and Media, and especially to ensure a safe and peaceful competition. We all know that there have been many challenges about security, and we deeply appreciate the serious efforts that have been made to ensure that ALL those taking part in this competition enjoy the legendary Kenyan hospitality in a calm, secure environment.
The World Cross Country will always be a very special competition for the IAAF, and it only remains for me to wish all competing athletes the very best of luck here tomorrow. I would now like to pass the floor to my colleague from the IAAF Council Mr Isaia Kipklagat, and will be happy to answer any questions later.
Thank you for attention