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Crosss Italica Gete Wami interviewed

Cross ItalicaWami: defend my title in Vilamoura - Olympic Gold - and then a baby
Sean Wallace-Jones for IAAF

Two-time World Cross Country Champion and World 10,000 metre champion Gete Wami is relaxed and smiling on the eve of the eighteenth edition of the Cross Internacional de Italica, the second leg of the IAAF Cross Challenge 2000.

Happy because she could well be on the way to her third title in the World Championships, to be staged in Vilamoura, Portugal in March, and because she is sitting beside her recently-married husband Geteneh Tessema.

"We were married on 21 November last year in a big hotel in Abbis Abeba," she recounts, "there were about a thousand people there, with lots of athletes and people from the federation and, of course, our families." The families may well have been in the majority as both Gete has five brothers and sisters and her husband Geteneh four, most of whom are married with children.

"I am third in my family," says Gete, who is the great exception in the family as far as sport is concerned.

"I have one younger brother of 19, who is just starting to run, but no-one else in the family is really sporty. Neither of my parents were athletes. My father is a cattle farmer and has a farm about 100 kilometres from Abbis, so if I hadn’t started running and been successful I would probably have been working on the farm now."

Notwithstanding her two World Cross titles, in 1996 and 1999, Wami really hit the headlines after her World Championship 10,000m gold in this same Andalusian city. In what was one of the most thrilling events in the World Championships, she came from behind to overtake Britain’s Paula Radcliffe and Kenyan Tegla Loroupe, who between them had made most of the running, and snatch gold in an amazing burst of speed that gave her the fastest time of the year over the distance with a clocking of 30:24.36.

"It wasn’t until afterwards that I really realised what I had done," she says looking back at that torrid day in August. "I saw the video when I got back to the hotel and then it really sank in."

What about an attempt at the world record?

"I seriously started to think about that after Seville. The current record is incredibly fast, but I think that I could do it in the right conditions."

You are a very tactical runner, do you think you have what it takes to race against yourself, the clock, rather than racing to beat another competitor?

"I believe that I do. In the World Championships Paula made most of the running and was very fast," a wry smile crosses her lips, "but I am faster.

"I think Paula is probably my strongest competitor on the track at the moment.

"In the cross country too, Paula is really strong and I think that she and Lydia Cheromei will be my biggest challengers. Lydia has come back after nearly two full seasons away and she is looking in amazing shape.

"I am really getting back into the swing of things now. I took it pretty easy after the wedding, but now I have to do a lot of work to catch up.

"My training programme hasn’t changed that much from previous years, but I have been doing more intensive interval training to boost my speed. The endurance side of things is still pretty good.

"After the Italica, I plan to go to Durham and then I will go back to Ethiopia for a few days. I really miss my family when I am not there and I need the altitude training.

"We train with the rest of the Ethiopian team at a base about 30 km from Abbis, at 3500m altitude. We all train together, seniors, juniors, men and women.

"Do I race against the men? Yes we work together and race together sometimes. Do I sometimes beat some of the men? (laughs) Well yes, but I can’t tell you who."

Her husband interjects:" You know what her nickname is? The men call her Mastic – because they can’t shake her off!"

Wami’s competitors on and off the track wouldn’t disagree with that, as Radcliffe and Loroupe learned to their cost in Seville on 26 August.

What is Wami’s forecast for the forthcoming World Championships?

"When you are racing, you never know. Like I said, my biggest challengers I see as Radcliffe and Cheromei, but we will see.

"What do I think about Kenyan team tactics? Well, the Kenyan runners are all at a very good high standard and this makes it very much easier for them to run together. In Ethiopia there is a lot of competition. We have a lot of new talent coming up through the ranks.

"I will be going back for the National Trials, which are being held on the 27 February and I know that they will be tough."

"After the cross season, I will be concentrating on my build up to the Olympics. A gold in the 10,000m in Sydney is a major ambition for me. Anda after that?" She and her husband smile at one another.

"The I would maybe like to have children, take a break to be a mother and then come back to competition. I have already been talking with Derartu Tulu about what it is like!"