Earlier today, the IAAF Press Conference for the 34th IAAF World Cross Country Championships was held in the JAL Resort Sea Hawk Hotel Fukuoka.
Guests were IAAF President Lamine Diack, JAAF Vice-President Koji Sakurai, IAAF General Secretary Pierre Weiss, and the following star athletes - defending double World Cross Country champions, Kenenisa Bekele and Tirunesh Dibaba of Ethiopia, Australia’s World 5000m bronze medallist, Craig Mottram, and Kayoko Fukushi of Japan, the winner of the recent IAAF cross country permit meeting here in Fukuoka.
The world's distance runners might have some hope. "If I do win both races this weekend," Kenenisa Bekele, the Ethiopian bidding to win both the 4km and 12km IAAF World Cross Country titles for the fifth successive time, said, "perhaps will vow never to run a cross-country race again."
But then Bekele's smile broke into a genuine laugh. The chances are, the World and Olympic champion and World record-holder at 10,000 metres was only joking.
Bekele was addressing the official pre-event press conference in Fukuoka, a city on the northern coast of Japan, about a two-hour flight from Tokyo.
Fukuoka is world famous in athletics because of it prestigious international marathon race staged there every December since 1947. It is a race which has been won by Olympic and World champions, and which in 1981 saw Rob de Castella set a world best on the course.
Despite such tradition, the large crowds expected to turn out at the seaside parkland course on Saturday and Sunday may never have seen a distance runner of Bekele's calibre before.
Not that the defending champion is taking anything for granted. Aware that this is the last time that the 4km, "short", race will be included on the programme, Bekele senses that his rivals may have prepared especially hard to try to deny him his fifth double.
"It's not easy to compete the double," he said with characteristic understatement, "but I do want to do it for the last time. This does give me some additional motivation. It is a wonderful opportunity but it will not be an easy thing to achieve. I am sure that many of the others have trained extra hard because this is the last time."
Like most observers, Bekele believes that Saturday's 4km race could offer his toughest challenge. "There are a lot of strong athletes entered this year for the short race," he said, though he declined to name any one in particular who he might regard as a threat. "That would weaken me mentally," he said.
Bekele's Ethiopian team mate, Tirunesh Dibaba, at 20, will be bidding to complete the equivalent women's double, over 8km on Saturday and 4km on Sunday, for an equally remarkable third time. Today, she denied that a recent illness had affected her preparation beyond having to miss three days' training. "I am feeling good for this competition," said the World 5000 and 10,000m gold medallist in Helsinki last August.
Seeking to break up the Ethiopian monopoly of cross-country medals will be Japan's Kayoko Fukushi and Craig Mottram, of Australia, who were also both at the press conference.
"I want to be involved in the race with the Africans," said Fukushi, the national record-holder at 3000 and 5,000m on the track who won the Fukuoka International cross-country race on the same course in early March.
Knowing the love for distance running among her countrymen and women, "why do we have such a tradition at the marathon? Perhaps it is because we are persistent.”
Fukushi hopes that strong support around the course could help her. "I'm sure the spectators will be cheering me on. I want to put on a race that they'll enjoy."
Mottram, as someone who trains with Africans for much of the year, has demonstrated in the past that he holds no fear about taking on the masters of distance running, most recently just a week ago, when he took the silver medal in the Commonwealth Games 5000m, splitting the Kenyans Augustine Choge and Benjamin Limo, a past winner of the short-course race at the IAAF World Cross.
"It was the chance of a lifetime, 85,000 people taking the roof of the stadium in your own hometown," Mottram said, "it was 12 minutes of absolute mayhem."
He denies that African domination of his events needs to be taken for granted. "If you'd been in Melbourne last week, you'd have thought that the sport was dominated by Australians," he said.
"Having runners from different countries contesting for the medals is more exciting. It's something we've been trying to do in our training group for a few years now, trying to bring a bit of excitement back to the sport.”
"I'm coming here, off an Australian summer, in the form of my life, and I'm looking forward to having another go at Ben and the others.”
"The problem I have with the Ethiopians and the Kenyans in races like this is that there is a lot of them and there's only one of me, so it's going to be very tough, but I'm ready to give it a go."