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Paul Tergat: I really want this title

Paul Tergat: "I really want this title"
Jürg Wirz for the IAAF

Jürg Wirz, a Swiss freelance journalist now based in Eldoret, interviewed Paul Tergat after he won the Kenyan national cross country championships in Nairobi. Tergat has won the IAAF World Cross Country title for five consecutive years, and is looking forward to an unprecedented sixth victory in Vilamoura 18-19 March.

Paul Tergat, you won the "National" in Nairobi in an impressive manner. What does this title mean to you?

Tergat: I am happy because it shows that since 1992 I have been able to stay at the top. This victory gives me a lot of confidence. It shows that I am absolutely within my schedule for the World Cross Country Championships. Now I can relax.

In other words, you are ready for a sixth consecutive World title in Vilamoura?

Tergat: What I need now is the final touch. I am going to prepare with the team in Embu. I think I just need one more race, the Cinque Mulini Cross in Italy. But the thing is, I can never say I am going to win this title again. What I can say is that I am going to try. I am not going to take it lightly. I really want this title. My fans are expecting me to win. I have to fight, to fight...You know, there are still a few weeks to go and anything can happen. What I know: Winning the world title six times in a row needs a lot of courage and determination. It is not easy at all.

At the Nationals we saw a number of 'new' guys: Abraham Cherono Christopher Koskei's younger brother was second, Wilberforce Talel, an athlete who started serious training only two years ago was third. Does this surprise you?

Tergat: Not at all. I knew they would be very strong. Cherono won the Rift Valley Championships one week ago and in 1998 he was second in the steeplechase at the World Juniors. And Talel has running very impressively over the last few months. I am very happy about these young ones. I am about to retire as a track runner. I feel more encouraged when I see younger athletes coming up who are, in a way, following my footsteps. I was also very pleased when Charles Kamathi came from nowhere last year to win the Golden League 10,000m in Brussels. We still need our flag to fly high. That is the good thing about Kenya: We have plenty of young talent.

You are talking about your retirement as a track runner. Will Sydney be the last opportunity to see Paul Tergat on the track?

Tergat: Definitely. I shall finish my track career this year. Then I want to specialize in road races - half marathon and marathon - and still compete in some cross country events. The main target will be the marathon. I shall do cross country races because I believe even for a marathon runner this is the best preparation. There is nothing else I could do in winter.

Some people say that if you would have concentrated more on track you would have been able even to defeat Haile Gebrselassie...

Tergat: I go by what God tells me. I go by what I decide. No one decides for me. I find more enjoyment and satisfaction with what I am doing. Track, cross country and road races are different specialities. You find a number of good cross country runners who are not good on the track. You find some very good track runners who are mediocre in cross country. Every time I meet different personalities. And for me this is more exciting and gives me more fulfilment. I have won medals in Olympics and World Championships. I don’t praise myself but I am very happy with my performances. For me the 10,000m world record will remain the climax of my career. To be the fastest man ever at a certain distance had been always my biggest dream. Whatever I am done since then I have enjoyed.