MonteCarloSergiy Lebid, Ukraine’s threetime European cross country champion looks set to lead the continent’s challenge to the annual African onslaught at the 31st IAAF World Cross Country Championships, which take place in Lausanne – La Broye, Switzerland, 29-30 March.
Lebid who is based in Italy and runs for the club ‘Cover Verbania’, has produced half a dozen or so cross country victories on the European circuit in 2003, most recently taking a narrow but impressive win in the classic Cinque Mulini race, near Milano, Italy, on 9 March.
The last European born man to win the World Cross title was Portugal’s 1984 Olympic marathon champion Carlos Lopes in 1985, and while it is easy to read significance into historical footnotes, Lebid’s win this year in the Cinque Mulini was the first by a European since Italian Alberto Cova’s victory in 1986, the Italian also being the last European to win the Olympic 10,000m title.
Lebid, who took the World long course silver medal in 2001, has a devastating last minute trade mark finishing kick which he usually unleashes during the final run to the finishing tape, and seems to be in the form of his life this year. If anyone can stop the phalanx of talented Ethiopian, Kenyans, Moroccans, Tanzanians etc…from winning the World Cross gold, then it will be the 27-year-old Ukrainian.
Interestingly, after the impressive double victories of Ethiopia’s Kenenisa Bekele in Dublin last year, it is Lebid of all the world’s male runners who holds the greatest record at an attempted short and long course double, having finished 10th (short) and 8th (long) in the 2000 World Cross Country Championships in Vilamoura, Portugal.