Addis AbabaThe 20th Ethiopian National Cross-Country Championships will be held this weekend at the Jan Meda Race Course. The competition will be fierce amongst the country’s elite athletes as the event will be also used to select the Ethiopian team for the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Lausanne, Switzerland (29-30 March 2003).
This year’s competition has attracted athletes from five countries - South Africa, Uganda, Sudan, Djibouti, and Portugal - and the organisers have managed to attract the worldwide telecom equipment manufacturer Siemens as the official race sponsor. The championships will also receive live coverage on national television for the first time in the event’s history.
However, some of the country’s big names have decided to skip Lausanne. There will be no cross country stint for four-time World and twice Olympic 10,000m champion Haile Gebrselassie, as he will be going for the World Indoor 3000m title in Birmingham instead. In the women’s ranks, Berhane Adere and Kutre Dulecha will also be taking part in Birmingham. Whereas, Gete Wami will not be competing on Saturday because she is injured, and two-time Olympic 10,000m Derartu Tulu is scheduled to be running a Marathon this weekend.
Kenenisa Bekele, the men’s double World gold medallist in Dublin last year, would of course have started as favourite at the national championships this year, but has now had to withdraw because of a low red blood cell count brought on by food poisoning.
Had he competed, Bekele would in any case have been wary of two other Ethiopians, who are the only runners to have beaten him in the last 18 months.
Reigning World Junior Cross Country Champion Gebregziabher Gebremariam has made the leap to senior competition this year and will be eager to make an impact on the bigger stage.
“My training has gone very well,” said a modest Gebremariam. “With the help of God, I hope to get a good result.”
His training partner 19-year-old Sileshi Sihin, who came in second behind Gebremariam in the Great Ethiopian Run last November, will be is making his first appearance at senior World Cross level in Lausanne. “We (Gebremariam and I) have trained well this year and hope to achieve good results on Saturday,” Sihin confirmed.
World 10,000m silver medalist Assefa Mezgebu is also looking for a good result despite not liking cross country. The 28-year-old admitted, “I do not like running on muddy pitches. But I have trained well and I want to be part of the team that goes to Lausanne.”
Hailu Mekonnen saw his three-year old World Indoor Two Miles best disappear on 21 February, when Gebreselassie took nearly five seconds off the old mark but said that he is ready to make an impact in Jan Meda this weekend, “I was suffering flu last weekend, but I feel alright now.”
Without Wami or Tulu, all eyes in the women’s races will be on two ‘up and coming’ athletes. Workinesh Kidane who won the Great Ethiopian Run last year will be the favourite in Jan Meda, but Meseret Defar will have something to say about that, as the World Junior 3000 and 5000m champion looks to transfer some of her impeccable junior track form to the cross country discipline
Elshadai Negash for the IAAF