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Gete Wami makes it a perfect day for Ethiopia

Wami makes it a perfect day for Ethiopia
Nick Davies for IAAF in Belfast

Ethiopia’s Gete Wami – a winner in 1996 and bronze medallist in the last two editions – returned to the top of the podium today after the women’s long course race. But she had to do it the hard way. With the temperature dropping, and the 8 kilometre course both heavy and full of tight turns, the race was a traditionalist’s dream ... and a competitor’s nightmare. Wami, ably assisted by her Ethiopian team mates Merima Dendoba and Ayelach Worku, controlled the tempo of the race and ensured that their greatest rival Paula Radcliffe, who had beaten Wami for silver in the two previous championships, was never able to dominate from the front. Wami had the more decisive – alternately surging and slowing the pace – at the head of the leading pack.

Once Wami had made her decisive break – after the climb on the penultimate lap – she quickly built up a eight second gap which she built up to 12 seconds as she finished in 28:00. Although she looked comfortable throughout, the Ethiopian was suffering from a throat infection (treated the night before by the British team doctor!) and spent the first couple of minutes after the race vomiting, rather than celebrating wildly. Once she had recovered Wami said: "I was happy to win, especially since I have a cold. I was surprised when no-one came with me when I made the break. This was much easier than 1996. But then I had less self-confidence which made the difference. I came here expecting to win."

The main excitement at the finish came when Wami’s team mate Merima Denboba overtook Radcliffe in the last few metres to secure the silver. Although obviously disappointed to miss out on gold again, especially with the absence of Sonia O’Sullivan and on "home soil", Radcliffe was philosophical in defeat. "I am disappointed – especially to lose out on silver in the last few strides – but at least I did all I could. I followed my plan. But Wami was in great shape and ran the race like a fartlek session – and athletes kept going to the front and chopping and changing the pace. I’ll keep coming back to this race until I win it. It’s not going to beat me."

Wami’s winning margin was the largest in this race since Ingrid Kristiansen in Auckland in 1988, and confirmed the Ethiopian’s fine winter form which has seen her win in Durham and Amorebieta. Wami's victory in Belfast confirmed her absolute domination of the IAAF World Cross Challenge also, as she scored a total of 144 points ahead of her compatriot Merima Denboba (79 points) and third-placed Paula Radciffe of Great Britain with 72 points.

Ethiopia won the team competition with Kenya second and Portugal third, thanks to some inspired running from Helena Sampaio (8th in 28.42). Her Portuguese team mate Conceicao Ferreira – a bronze medallist in 1994 – was actually making her 16th appearance at this event and is looking forward to making the Portuguese team again for next year’s event in Vilamoura. Deena Drossin of the USA also had a great day, finishing 10th after cruising with the leading group of 11 runners until the penultimate lap when Kenya’s Leah Malot (eventually 9th), Wami and Radcliffe began to build up the pace. At 4km, reached in 13:59, the leading group still contained 11 athletes, but at 5km, after a 3:26 kilometre, the group was down to just five – Radcliffe, Susan Chepkemei (Kenya) and three Ethiopians: Wami, Denboba and Ayelech Worku. Once Chepkemei had been dropped on the last lap, and Wami was uncatchable, it was down to Dendoba to ensure a happy conclusion for Ethiopia.


Winner - Gete Wami (ETH)

I was very happy to win especially since I have a cold and was quite worried about it. It was hot in Ethiopia and I think the cold weather here has brought on this cold. I had planned to go with the rest up to a certain point then take off on my own. I was surprised when no-one came with me when I made the break as I had expected more competition. This was much easier than 1996. Back then I had less self-confidence, which made a difference. I came here to win.

Third - Paula Radcliffe (GBR)

I was comfortable in second place, you can’t run too hard over 8km. Every lap got tougher but the crowd support was great, it was like running at home. Wami was just floating uphill while the rest of us were all working at it. I’ll keep coming back to this race until I win it. It’s not going to beat me. One day I’ll do a marathon.