MonteKenenisa Bekele’s doubledouble gold medal triumphs in the last two years have automatically made the 21 year-old Ethiopian the overwhelming focal point of the 32nd IAAF World Cross Country Championships, Brussels, Belgium (20/21 March). It is a scenario which the World 10,000m champion recently acknowledged would make this his “hardest ever” cross country challenge.
Head to head battles are very much the theme of this year’s World Cross Country Championships, as over 70 nations of Athletics’ global family gather together in the Belgium capital in a week’s time.
Taking account of the many possible variants of athletes doubling-up or swapping distances prior to final team declarations being made at the Technical meeting on 19 March, Britain’s former double women’s long course champion Paula Radcliffe will face at both distances Lornah Kiplagat of the Netherlands, who recently slew the Briton over 10km in Puerto Rico.
There is also the potential clash over the women’s short distance event between Kenya’s Edith Masai, who is looking to win her third consecutive title, and Ethiopia’s Werknesh Kidane who won the long race last year and also came in second behind the Kenyan over the 4km distance in 2003.
Back to our reigning men’s champion, if he goes for a defence of both his crowns, Bekele’s battles in Brussels could among others include show-downs with Kenya’s Abraham Chebii (short race), and Eliud Kipchoge (long race), and Qatar’s Saif Saaeed Shaheen, possibly at both distances.
“This year cross country remains my priority, as there are many runners who would like to stop me in Brussels,” said Bekele who was explaining his earlier decision not to run at last weekend’s World Indoor Championships. “So this year’s World Cross Country Championships will be very difficult, perhaps the hardest ever. Everybody wants to fight with me. They are all training harder than ever to beat me.”
“Also the whole of Ethiopia expects me to win at cross country. If I were to lose they would be angry. They would not understand,” concluded a motivated but realistic Bekele.
Ethiopia expects victory, but Bekele’s opponents are determined to deny his followers their planned celebrations, and as such Brussels could be set for one of the greatest cross country battles of all time.