Five-time world cross-country champion Paul Tergat knows what it means, not just to compete but excel in athletics’ oldest world championship event.
On the eve of the 42nd IAAF World Cross Country Championships Kampala 2017, the retired Kenyan athlete told a press conference of his pride in his role as the event’s ambassador. “Cross country is in my veins, it runs through and when I got this opportunity to be an ambassador, I do it with commitment and passion.” Tergat was also an ambassador for the 2013 world cross country edition in Bydgoszcz, Poland.
The slogan for Kampala 2017 is, a people’s cross-country, a green cross-country. As a result the Kampala greening project is one of the championships legacy initiatives. Last month, Tergat participated in a tree-planting project with students from 15 schools in Uganda. The 47-year-old says the importance of this exercise was “to engage school children that the effects of climate change are real and with us and we cannot run away from it.” Tergat who was a road running star in his day also emphasised the importance of promoting environmental sustainability for athletics in general saying, “if everyday you run there were no trees and air is polluted air, then you kill the sport.”
Tergat also engaged with young children during his last visit to motivate them to take up cross-country running. Tergat’s golden world cross-country era was between 1995 and 1999, when he became the first man to win five consecutive titles in the event. To the former king of the mud race, cross-country running played a key role in the foundation of his ensuing track and road-running career, and encourages young talents to embrace the event saying, “I had a lot of satisfaction to make sure that kids would want to take up cross country as a way of transiting to other sports.” Tergat also highlighting Uganda’s athletics achievements over the last 10 years which include Stephen Kiprotich’s 2012 Olympic marathon title and 2013 marathon world title.
A cross-country gold medal however remains elusive and on Sunday the 40 million plus population will hope this can finally change at the Kololo Independence Grounds. Kiprotich is part of the country’s 28-member team who shoulder this burden. Tergat urged support for the host nation especially from high-flying neighbours Kenya, whose record at the World Cross Country Championships is the envy of many. The East Africans come into the competition defending both senior titles and arch-rivals Ethiopia is the only other team which boasts just as enviable a record at the World cross.
Tergat appreciated Uganda’s desire for success within which he says his own country sometimes takes for granted.
“Unlike Kenya where when we win six gold medals we still complain because we are used to winning, when Uganda win one gold they will celebrate a lot and this is what we want to see,” the former marathon world record holder explained.
Backed by an expectant partisan crowd on a course they are familiar with are some factors Uganda hope can work in their favour as they bid to end the wait for a world cross country gold medal either in the team or individual event, in a competition where precedence of an East African nation’s success has already been set.
Celestine Karoney for the IAAF