Fab Five – World Cross near-misses (Getty Images) © Copyright
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Fab five: World Cross near-misses

In the latest in our Fab Five series counting down to the IAAF World Cross Country Championships Aarhus 2019, we pay tribute to a quintet of athletes who boast an outstanding World Cross pedigree without ever having scaled to the top of the podium in the individual races.

 

Mariano Haro

World cross-country silver in 1973, 1974 and 1975

Missing out on gold by a second or less at each of the first three IAAF World Cross Country Championships, few athletes can count themselves quite so unlucky not be crowned a world cross-country champion as the diminutive Spaniard.

A fourth-place finisher in the 1972 Olympic 10,000m, Haro was a class act but agonisingly missed out on gold by just one tenth of a second to Finn Pekka Paivarinta at the inaugural World Cross Country Championships in Waregem some 46 years ago.

Twelve months later in Monza it was a similar story as he conceded defeat to the Belgian Eric de Beck by a margin of eight-tenths of a second. Haro banked a third successive World Cross silver in 1975 when Briton Ian Stewart pipped the 34-year-old veteran by one second at the Souissi Racecourse in Rabat.

 

Salah Hissou

World cross-country bronze in 1995, silver in 1996 and 1997

A world 5000m champion on the track and a former world 10,000m record-holder, the rugged Moroccan was an athlete of the highest calibre.

Yet, frustratingly, he found his route to the top of the World Cross podium repeatedly blocked by five-time champion Paul Tergat.

In 1995 Hissou collected World Cross bronze in Durham, placing nine seconds behind the tall Kenyan. Then the following year in Stellenbosch the gap had stretched to 12 seconds, although Hissou upgraded to silver.

The Moroccan’s best crack at breaking Tergat’s stranglehold came at the 1997 World Cross Country Championships in Turin. The pair slugged it out in an epic head-to-head battle only for his long-standing rival to edge it in a blistering sprint for the line.

 

Catherina McKiernan

World cross-country silver in 1992, 1993, 1994 and 1995

Perhaps no athlete better qualifies for the title World Cross 'bridesmaid' than the plucky Irishwoman, who between 1992-1995 earned four successive senior women’s silver medals.

McKiernan’s silver streak began in Boston 1992 when she was out-fought by three-time champion Lynn Jennings in a rousing battle.

The following year Albertina Dias of Portugal ran the race of her life in Amorebieta to deny McKiernan and in Budapest 1994 Kenyan Hellen Chepngeno curbed the Irish athlete’s ultimate ambitions.

Twelve months later it was Ethiopian great Derartu Tulu who beat the Irishwoman to the top of the podium, as yet again the future London and Berlin Marathon winner had to settle for second best.

 

Linet Masai

World cross-country bronze in 2008, silver in 2009, 2010 and 2011

It was a case of close, but no cigar for Linet Masai who began her run of four successive minor medals at the World Cross Country Championships by taking bronze in Edinburgh 2008.

Set for victory as the 2009 edition in Amman, Masai conceded a 50-metre advantage only to be thwarted by her compatriot Florence Kiplagat for gold.

The following year in Bydgoszcz, Masai was once again relegated to silver as she was outsprinted by the unheralded Emily Chebet.

Masai’s World Cross story continued its familiar theme in 2011, as Vivian Cheruiyot beat her to the gold medal punch in Punta Umbria.

 

Paul Kipkoech

World cross-country silver in 1985, fifth in 1986, silver in 1987 and 1988

Paul Kipkoech at the 1988 World Cross Country Championships (Getty Images)Paul Kipkoech at the 1988 World Cross Country Championships (Getty Images) © Copyright

 

The super-smooth Kenyan was a world champion on the track (1987 world 10,000m champion) but he never quite managed to scale the ultimate peak at the World Cross Country Championships. 

A 1985 World Cross silver medallist behind the Portuguese veteran Carlos Lopes in Lisbon, the following year he placed fifth and out of the medals in Neuchatel, Switzerland.

Kipkoech came mightily close to gold at the 1987 edition in Warsaw but just missed out to John Ngugi in a thrilling sprint finish.

The following year in Auckland he earned a third World Cross silver but once again had to concede defeat to Ngugi.


Steve Landells for the IAAF