Lornah Kiplagat of the Netherlands leads Tirunesh Dibaba in the short race (Getty Images) © Copyright

SENIOR WOMEN’s PREVIEW - World Cross Country Championships

MonteCarloTirunesh Dibaba will have twin targets in her sight this weekend in Mombasa, Kenya at the 35th IAAF World Cross Country Championships, 24 March 2007.

Firstly, she will attempt to become the first woman in 15 years since Lynn Jennings' final success in Boston, to achieve a hat-trick of victories. Edith Masai took three consecutive titles (2002, 03, 04) in the short course race which is now no longer contested.

If Dibaba achieves what must be considered a realistic ambition, she will also have accomplished the second of her targets as she will match Ethiopia's best ever women's individual medal haul of three gold by Derartu Tulu, the last achieved in the first year of the new millennium.

From cold and snow to hot and humid

Conditions in Mombasa on Saturday will be far different from the freezing occasion that Jennings slogged through to her third successive victory in a snowstorm on home USA territory in Boston’s Franklin Park in 1992.

On that championships day in New England, ice was hanging from the nose of the awesome American who, supported by a 30,000 crowd, around the last circuit clambered up-and-down the 59 metres high Bear Cage Hill, to take a two seconds win ahead of Ireland's Catherina McKiernan.

Similarly Tulu's first victory in 1995 was on an extremely bitterly cold English day, over an equally hilly English course in Durham, where McKiernan for a fourth successive year had to settle for silver medal position.

But the next two victories - in 1997 and then three years later - of arguably one of the worlds greatest-ever distance runners were achieved in the much warmer sunshine venues of Turin and Vilamoura.

Clearly the piping hot and humid conditions forecast for Saturday over the eight kilometres course at Mombasa Golf course, will favour African track runners - and they don't come any better than Dibaba.

Let's remember the 21-year-old cousin of Tulu, is the reigning World 5000m and 10,000m champion after her unique 2005 double in Helsinki and already this year has broken her own  world indoor 5000m record.

Significantly though, Dibaba has not contested a cross country race since dropping out after the first lap of the short course (4K) race – which as we have already remarked is no longer in the championships schedule - last year in Fukuoka.

However Ethiopia's Athletics Federation its eyes firmly fixed on winning more medals than its major rival Kenya in its own backyard, gave special dispensation for her inclusion in the side after she missed the trial race.

Fatigue was cited for the reason the defending champion was an absentee on that occasion, but no one doubts Dibaba will be firing on all cylinders this Saturday especially considering her World Indoor 5000m record which she set last month in Boston.

Otherwise she wouldn't be making the short southerly flight from Addis Ababa to Kenya's top tourist resort.

A deep pool of Ethiopian talent

Should Dibaba unexpectedly have an off-day and not chalk up another success, her fellow countrywoman and 2004 World Junior champion Melesech Melkamu, when winning the Ethiopian trials she has the power and speed to improve on the bronze medal she claimed in Japan last April.

A third Ethiopian Gelete Burka who deprived Dibaba of a second long and short course crown in Fukuoka, also has the ability to step up and notch another gold medal adding to that win and the junior title she claimed two years ago.  

Naturally Kenya will be determined to produce a winner in its first staging of the championships which is being hosted at this sea level coastal venue, rather than in the highlands or high altitude of the Rift Valley which would have seriously have disadvantaged much of the rest of the world’s contestants.

Kiplagat is still well-loved in her ‘old’ country

But it is doubtful whether any member of the host nation's side has the ability to unsettle their Ethiopian rivals - leaving the task to Kenyan born Lornah Kiplagat.

Can Kiplagat become the first European winner since Great Britain's Paula Radcliffe notched up her second success in Dublin five years?

The former European cross country champion led by three seconds at the bell in last year's super contest in Japan, before being reeled in by Dibaba who went on to score a five seconds victory.

The 32-year-old star who is married to coach Pieter Langerhorst and has proudly worn the Netherlands’ vest for four years, still - and quite correctly - considers herself a Kenyan.
Langerhorst insisted earlier this week that despite the switch of allegiance, last autumn's World Road Running champion where she set a 20K World record in Debrecen, Hungary, remains totally in heart and soul, a born and bred Kenyan.

Langerhorst revealed: "Kenyans understand that she is running for the Netherlands because she is married there. In her culture, you follow the husband to his place and in our case, that's the Netherlands. So far we have had a lot of support from the Kenyans and I think the same will be in Mombasa next week."

Indeed when Kiplagat competed at last month's Kenyan National Championships on the Mombasa course, the crowd roared their approval as she out-sprinted Hellen Musyoka for a five seconds victory.

Kiplagat made the long haul journey from the high altitude training camp she owns in Iten, situated in the heart of the Great Rift Valley, to acquaint herself with the sea-level venue.

The camp resting at an altitude of 2400 metres and 350 kilometres north of the capital Nairobi, can be reached after a 30 minutes drive from the nearest city of Eldoret.  Athletes from not just Kenya but worldwide have began using the facility she invested in from her winnings mainly on the global road running circuit, eight years ago.
Kiplagat's success in Mombasa over the fast terrain - her first win on Kenyan soil for five years - was a perfect preview of the conditions she will face next Saturday.

Certainly although remaining primarily a road runner, she will go into the contest in the best possible shape against her world class cross country rivals.

"My training was a combination of endurance and speed because I am combining it with the preparations for the Flora London Marathon,” said Kiplagat who competes there on 22 April.
"My decision to visit Mombasa was wise, winning at home and away from home was really nice," added Kiplagat, who was excused competing at the Dutch Championships on the same day so she could complete her race.

Her very wise coach admitted: "Dibaba is more a cross country runner than Lornah who is focussed mainly on the road."

Langerhorst conceded: "Dibaba is the top favourite and we respect her a lot. However, every athlete is beatable. But we are really looking forward to these Championships and no matter what result she has, she will be happy because she has trained to the maximum and it is a great feeling to run the World Championships in the country she was born.”

"We realise there are several very strong athletes in the race but the day itself will decide who will be the strongest."

In the team race Ethiopia are well geared up to repeat the easy victory they attained last year ahead of Kenya and Japan again tipped as their biggest rivals, which would see their squad standing on the winner's podium for the sixth consecutive time.

David Martin - The Press Association - for the IAAF


Senior Men
Teams of no more than twelve (12) athletes can be entered in the race. Nine (9) athletes will be allowed to start in each race, six (6) of whom will score.

Junior Men, Senior Women, Junior Women
Teams of no more than eight (8) athletes can be entered in all races. Six (6) athletes will be allowed to start in each race, four (4) of whom will score.


Junior athletes (i.e. athletes who are 18 or 19 by 31 December 2007) can compete in any race. However, Junior athletes cannot compete in both Junior and Senior Races.

Youth athletes (i.e. athletes who are 16 or 17 by 31 December 2007) can compete only in the Junior Race.