MonteCarloThis is the traditional time of year when bank managers in Addis Ababa greet the world with a greater than usual air of optimism, as the Ethiopian team departs for this weekend’s 32nd IAAF World Cross Country Championships, Brussels, Belgium (20/21 March).
Ethiopia’s double-double World Cross Country champion Kenenisa Bekele is arguably the greatest runner in the Championships’ history. Financially he has reaped the benefit too as in the last three editions of the event - thanks to his second place short course finish in 2001, and two short and long race doubles in 2002 and 2003 - he has brought home an individual prize money haul of US$135.000.
Bekele has also taken a share of the US$76,000 team prize money that the Ethiopian senior squads also compiled for their third place (2001 short course) and four second place finishes (short/long, 2002/03) in those same races.
The annual question of ‘will he or won’t he’ double, will again remain definitely unanswered until Friday’s technical meeting. However, whatever Bekele’s racing decisions for Brussels, the usual prize money totals (seniors only) are on offer for each race:
Individuals - US$ 30,000 for 1st, US$15,000 for 2nd, US$10,000 for 3rd, graduating down to US$3000 for a sixth place finish.
Team - US$20,000 for 1st, US$16,000 for 2nd, US$12,000 for 3rd, graduating down to US$4000 for a sixth place finish.
Whether Bekele’s bank manager greets next Monday morning with a smile or not, the World 10,000m champion remains the undoubted star of these championships. However, the 21 year-old recognises that as this is an Olympic year, his opponents are desperate to dispel some of his aura of invincibility. As such, the challenge in Brussels “will be my hardest ever”, as the Kenyans in particular look for a glimmer of hope prior to Athens.
Therefore, it is somewhat appropriate that one of the distinguished guests who will watch Bekele’s defence of his long course title on Sunday will be Belgium’s IOC President Jacques Rogge.