Spain plays host to the IAAF World Cross Country Championships for the third time on Sunday (20) and so it’s appropriate then that Ayad Lamdassem will be on hand to give the local crowd plenty to cheer.
He leads a Spanish men’s team that will not only be racing for pride on home soil but also to reverse the impression, if ever so slightly, that European cross country running is in the doldrums despite the continent still being location for the majority of the world’s top races at the discipline.
Turning back the clock
No runner from a European country has finished in the top 10 at the World Cross Country Championships for a decade, the last time being in 2001 when Belgium’s Mohammed Mourhit also won and Ukraine’s Sergey Lebid got the silver medal.
However, there is the prevailing feeling that Lamdassem might just end that sorry streak.
He is in the form of his life at the moment, having got the silver medal at the SPAR European Cross Country Championships in December.
Last month, he was victorious at the European Champion Clubs Cup cross country meeting in San Vittore Olona in Italy and then a convincing winner at the Spanish national championships in Haro.
Nevertheless, Lamdassem is not getting carried away and making rash prediction about being among the medals even if there is no clear favourite for the race and not a single former champion will be on the start line.
“I’m just here to get the best result possible. Two years ago in Amman I was 30th, my initial ambition is just to improve on that,” said the 29-year-old, who was born in Morocco but now lives in the Catalan city of Lleida.
Spain’s medal ambitions
“But getting a medal in the Europeans was like a dream come true, I’d been chasing it for three years, Now, I want to demonstrate what I am capable of here in Punta Umbría.
“I’ve been preparing well, and I want to also help my team because I think Spain can fight for the bronze medals in the team race. We are looking for an improvement after having come sixth last year and seventh the year before,” he added.
The last time a European nation climbed the podium at the World Cross Country Championships in the senior men’s race – no counting the short race which was in existence from 1998 to 2006 – was also in 2001 when France took the silver medals.
“Like always, you have to look at the Kenyan and Ethiopian athletes to be the favourites when we are talking about cross country running, but I can’t tell you one individual who should be the favourite, there are always plenty of people who can win from their teams,” commented Lamdassem, emphasising the impression that Sunday’s race should be a truly open affair, now that the era of Kenenisa Bekele dominating proceedings appears to have now come to an end.
However, only 18 European countries have decided to send runners to the south of Spain, in sharp contrast to the 2010 SPAR European Cross Country Championships, which was staged barely 100km away on the other side of the Portuguese border in Albufeira, which saw almost double that number compete when a record 34 nations participated.
“I’m sad that European nations are not sending more athletes to this event, I want to compete against people from as many countries as possible and that includes from Europe not just against the Africans. For me, cross country is the ideal discipline to bring together athletes of all backgrounds, from marathon runners down to middle distance men, it an ideal test for everyone,” reflected Lamdassem.
Once his race in Punta Umbría is behind him, Lamdassem will concentrate on preparing for the summer, when his targets are to improve on his 5000m and 10,000m best times of 13:17.49 and 27:45.58, relatively modest marks for a man who appears to have enough talent to get much closer to both the halcyon 13-minute and 27-minute barriers after his displays this winter.
Phil Minshull for the IAAF