MonteCarloOn paper it would seem an unusual head-to-head clash on which to promote a championship. Coming into the 36th IAAF World Cross Country Championships, Edinburgh, Scotland (30 March), Eritrean Zersenay Tadese has won just one of the eleven global championship battles he has had with Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele during his career.
However, to think that would be to forget the momentous events which occurred last year in the senior men’s race at the World Cross Country Championships in Mombasa, Kenya, when not only did Tadese, the World Road Running champion, win the gold but his chief opponent, Bekele, the reigning five-times long course race titleholder, could not even finish.
Bekele, as three-time World 10,000m champion and 2004 Olympic 10,000m gold medallist, is arguably one of the greatest ever track runners but at cross country with ten individual senior race gold medals (he also won titles 2002-2006 at the now discontinued short race distance) and one junior crown he is definitively the greatest ever cross country runner.
Therefore Tadese’s defeat of Bekele last year in Mombasa was of seismic proportions in the world of distance running. The invincible five-times double champion had been slain, his run of victories halted in the spiritual heartland of the discipline, Kenya.
Bekele, the World 5000m and 10,000m record holder, has since bounced back retaining his 10,000m track title in Osaka last year, a race in which Tadese was fourth. More recently, on 12 January 2008 at the IAAF XC permit race in Edinburgh at the site of next week’s World Cross Country Championships, he beat Tadese convincingly in a sprint finish. The pair finished first and second.
But as Bekele said after his victory in Edinburgh - “It was a very different race to Mombasa. It was not a World Cross Country, but it was a very tough race… It was very important I won this race.”
There clearly remains a Mombasa ghost or two for Bekele to bury and when he next races in Edinburgh on Sunday 30 March it will very much be for World title honours.
Since Mombasa, despite his Osaka and Edinburgh defeats to Bekele, Tadese has reinforced his own credentials as a world player. The 2006 World Road Running champion retained that title in Udine last autumn, and on 3 February 2008 took victory in the Cinque Mulini in San Vittore Olona, the Italian leg of the IAAF XC Permit series, a fixture which is one of the classic races of the cross country circuit.
There are of course plenty of genuine contenders for the World Cross Country senior men’s title in Edinburgh but in essence the race boils down to these two men. The former champion looking for final redemption following Mombasa, and the defending titleholder focussed on retaining his title as he has done on the roads.
It is an example of a straightforward and very genuine sporting ‘head to head’ which will make the race on 30 March an intriguing and thoroughly entertaining encounter to watch.
Chris Turner for the IAAF
Tadese vs Bekele at global title level
- 2002 World Cross Country Champs 12km – Dublin 2002-03-24
Tadese 36:37 (30th) - Bekele (1st)
- 2003 World Cross Country Champs 12.3km - Lausanne-La Broye 2003-03-30
37:10 (9) - 35:56 (1)
- 2003 World Champs in Athletics 5000m - Saint-Denis, Paris 2003-08-31
13:05.57 (8) - 12:53.12 (3)
- 2004 World Cross Country Champs 12km - Brussels 2004-03-21
36:37 (6) - 35:52 (1)
- 2004 Olympic Games 10,000m - Athens 2004-08-20
27:22.57 (3) - 27:05.10 (1)
- 2004 Olympic Games 5000m - Athens 2004-08-28
13:24.31 (7) - 13:14.59 (2)
- 2005 World Cross Country Champs 12km - Saint-Galmier 2005-03-20
35:20 (2) - 35:06 (1)
- 2005 World Champs in Athletics 10,000m - Helsinki 2005-08-08
27:12.82 (6) - 27:08.33 (1)
- 2006 World Cross Country Champs 12km - Fukuoka 2006-04-02
35:47 (4) - 35:40 (1)
- 2007 World Cross Country Champs 12km - Mombasa 2007-03-24
35:50 (1) - DNF (0)
- 2007 World Champs in Athletics 10,000m - Osaka 2007-08-27
27:21.37 (4) - 27:05.90 (1)
Tadese (1) – Bekele (10)