Bob Franks for the IAAF
1 October 2001 - The first IAAF world half-marathon champion will make his first appearance in the Championships since that inaugural event in 1992, when he lines up in Bristol on Sunday.
Although Benson Masya and Liz McColgan made the headlines when the championships were last held in Britain, they were beaten to the honour of first world half-marathon champion by Kassa Tadesse.
The men’s junior championship – which was to last just one more year - was held on the eve of the senior event and Tadesse triumphed by 10 seconds on the roads of Tyneside.
Some nine years later, Tadesse makes his international debut for the host country, having made Britain his home since that 1992 success. He arrived in Britain as an unknown 18-year-old from Addis Ababa and within hours of touching ground was being crowned world champion.
Tadesse hadn’t arrived until 3am on the day of the race, having endured a 36 hour journey from his home in Ethiopia, but after just three hours sleep he got up for a morning training run to get the long journey out of his legs, then showed his rivals a clean pair of heels.
He chose to stay in England afterwards, leaving his family and 10-year-old sister back in Ethiopia and made Britain his home. He joined south London club Belgrave Harriers for whom he’s become a consistent performer, although some might argue guilty of over-racing – one day winning a nine mile road race just 18 hours after retaining his South of England junior cross country title.
He made an instant impression with Belgrave, Britain’s top track and field team, and set club junior records at 5,000 and 10,000 metres as well as winning the national cross country junior championships early in 1994.
By then, he’d already made a marathon debut – and a winning one at that as he triumphed in the Livorno Marathon in 2:19:94. Despite running consistently on the track and cross country, he always appeared happiest on the roads and another national title followed in 1997 when he won the AAA 10km title – following in the footsteps of former winners including former world marathon record-holder Steve Jones, ex UK 10,000m record-holder Eamonn Martin and 1994 Commonwealth 5,000 metres champion Rob Denmark.
It’s fitting therefore that Tadesse now makes his first GB appearance not only on the roads but also in the event that changed his life. Much of the credit for that should go to Coventry-based coach Ian Ladbrooke, who is earning a reputation as one of Britain’s best distance coaches.
Ladbrooke now advises Tadesse, who spends much of his time in Coventry, and this year saw a long-awaited return to form for the 27-year-old. He’d struggled with a hamstring injury for much of the previous two years, during which time he decided to open an Ethiopian restaurant in Brixton, London, but a training spell in Kenya at the start of the year got him back on track.
Tadesse spent three months training with former Great North Run winner John Mutai, who is also coached by Ladbrooke, and finally began to display the form which had brought that world title in 1992.
His comeback race, the National Road Relays near Birmingham in April, didn’t go well as he was physically sick during the race due to illness, but a week later he ran his fastest 10km for seven years when finishing third in Paris in 29:16.
He then decided to target the IAAF World Half-marathon Championships and had two spells training in Switzerland either side of the Great Scottish Run which incorporated the British trials for Sunday’s race.
He finished first Briton there in 64:04, placing second in the race behind Abner Chipu who runs for South Africa on Sunday, and was selected to make his GB debut. He lines up in a team including Mark Steinle, Matt O’Dowd, Nick Jones and Danny Robinson, but without Olympic fourth placer Jon Brown who withdrew recently.
The British women’s team, led by defending champion Paula Radcliffe, will also feature a former Ethiopian junior international. Birhan Dagne, like Tadesse, decided not to return home after representing Ethiopia in a world championship in Britain.
She placed fifth in the junior race at the 1995 world cross country championships in Durham and Sunday will be her second world half-marathon championships after finishing 29th in 1999 in 73:41. Tadesse and Dagne, clubmates at Belgrave, became friends when she first settled in England and are now looking forward to being GB team-mates this weekend.
Tadesse’s most recent race was a solid 29:22 10km in Cheltenham four weeks ago and he believes he’s ready to produce another good performance on his GB debut, in front of what is expected to be a huge crowd.
With Radcliffe aiming to defend her women’s title, Bristol will be packed, especially with a major half-marathon expected to attract around 4,000 runners taking place after the championship races. So Tadesse won’t be lacking encouragement from the sidelines.
It’s perhaps a good omen that 1976 Olympic 10,000 metres bronze medallist Brendan Foster will be in Bristol commentating for the BBC, for most of Tadesse’s best performances have been in races where Foster has been involved.
His world title in 1992 came in Foster’s home city of Newcastle and in an event where “Big Bren’s” Nova International company were the local organisers. Four of Tadesse’s personal bests were also set in races organised by Foster’s company, including his half-marathon PB of 62:51 at the 1997 Great North Run.
Those other PBs include 47:43 for 10 miles in the Great South Run in Portsmouth in 1993, 29:05 for 10km in the Great Caledonian Run in Edinburgh in 1994 and a 5,000m best of 14:05.8 which came in the fifth race of a five-day six-race Tour de France-style event Nova organised over a series of terrains in Northumberland in 1997.
So having not set a PB for four years, Tadesse hopes the fast course and quality of the opposition – not to mention the sheer excitement of making his GB debut in the event that launched his athletics career - will now drag him to a new best on Sunday in the first of what he hopes will be many international appearances for his adopted country.