Kenya's Paul Tergat returned to the cross country scene today after a three-year absence and showed the winning qualities that saw him win five consecutive World titles on the surface in the 1990's.
The world's fastest half marathon and marathon runner won the prestigious Iris Lotto CrossCup - IAAF Permit - race for the third time and may now return to the same Park of Laeken venue in March to seek a sixth individual World Cross Country title (20-21 March 2004).
The 34-year-old Kenyan didn’t hit the front until the final 400m of the 10.5km course but when he kicked for home he quickly strided away from Ukraine's European champion Sergiy Lebid, himself a renowned sprint finisher.
Belgian favourite Tom van Hooste made the pair work hard for he stretched the lead pack on the third of five laps and he led until the final 500m. Africans have dominated this race in recent years and the performance of van Hooste, fourth in last week’s European Cross Country Championships, was a surprise to the winner.
"I knew Lebid was in great form but Tom surprised me," said Tergat. "It was a very tough race but I am very pleased to have won. I knew I was in good shape but I have not done cross country for a very long time. This was proper cross country and I struggled to keep my balance at times."
"I would like to return here and do the World Cross Championships because this is my passion. I knew I had to make a determined bid to tackle the marathon and get the World record at that, but if possible I would like to come back. This is a wonderful course."
"If I run the World cross I will have to do more work on my speed so I will make a decision soon."
Lebid felt his spikes were too short but was happy with his run for second and he will take on Tergat again in Newcastle (3 Jan) next month but first he plans one more race on New Year’s Eve.
17 year-old Burika wins women's race
The women’s race went to Ethiopian Geleta Burika, aged just 17, after - it was reported - the Ethiopian federation had refused permission for last year’s runner-up Merima Demboba and World 10,000m champion Berhane Adere from competing.
In second place, three second adrift was Kenya's Viola Kibiwott, the reigning World Junior 1500m champion.
Burika, who was the World Junior Cross Country bronze medallist last March hopes like Tergat to return to Brussels to compete in the Worlds next year.
"It was a beautiful course and having finished number three in the World Cross Country last year I want to win this winter. I expected to win today and am very happy."
1 P Tergat (KEN) 33:50
2 S Lebid (UKR) 33:52
3 T van Hooste (BEL) 33:53
4 Peter Riley (GBR) 34:11
5 Claes Nyberg (SWE) 34:13
1 G Burika (ETH) 21:05
2 V Kibiwott (KEN) 21:08
3 A Timbilil (KEN) 21:10
4 Galino Bogomolova (RUS) 21:17
5 Aniko Kalovica (HUN) 21:27