Steven Downes and SWJ for IAAF
23 March 2001 Ostend - If Gete Wami, of Ethiopia, is under any extra pressure to perform well at the IAAF World Cross-country Championships here in Ostend this weekend, she is certainly not showing it.
Wami, the World Cross champion in 1996 and 1999 and never outside the first three places in the past five years, heads a small and youthful team from the Horn of Africa, which is missing the injured Kutre Dulecha, the 2000 champion for the four-kilometre short race, and Derartu Tulu, who is also injured and unable to defend her title in Saturdays eight-kilometre race around the Wellington Hippodrome.
"There are other Tulus in the Ethiopian team," Wami said when asked whether there was added pressure on her to match the achievements of her team mate, the Olympic 10,000 metres gold medallist in Sydney and three-time World Cross Country Champion.
"There are hundreds and hundreds of Tulus and Wamis in Ethiopia," Wami said.
Although only 26 years old herself, Wami, the runner-up in the Sydney 10,000m final last September, is a veritable veteran alongside her four team mates entered for Saturdays race, with two of them - Merima Hashim and Eyerusalem Kuma - only celebrating their 20th birthdays this year.
Wami took a long rest after the Olympics, and Saturdays race is only the second cross-country outing of the winter for her, the first having been the Ethiopian trials.
But she is in formidable form, having run 14min 49.36sec for an African indoor 5,000m record last month and plans to capitalise on this by running her third cross of the season on Sunday, when she plans to take a shot at the women's short cross (4 km) too.
Stepping out into the cold, wet surrounds of Ostend, though, Wami is wary.
"It might be hard for me, because it is so cold," she said.
But the woman who managed to show that conditions are no obstacle to her when she won her second World Cross title in a Belfast bog two years ago said that the muddy Hippodrome was not a worry for her. "That is what the sport is about," Wami said. "It makes no difference to me."
Wami and her compatriot, Tulu, have often proved to be the last-lap sprint Nemesis for the hopes of Britains front-running Paula Radcliffe, both on the country and on the track. Yet Wami said that she will be taking seriously the challenge of every runner on the start line at lunchtime on Saturday. "Whenever an athlete changes into the racing kit," Wami said, "you have to assume that they are not weak or lazy."
Radcliffe is neither weak nor lazy and is looking forward to clashing twice with Wami over the weekend.
"I am really on the best form that I could be in," she said at a press conference this afternoon. "I have been training in Albuquerque and everything has been going well."
But she also refused to make any predictions about the outcome of the weekend's racing: "In any competition at this level, there are maybe 9-10 really great athletes on form and of those four or five will be on really great form when the time comes to race. They are the ones that you have to watch. All that I know is that I am in the best shape I could possibly be."
For Tulu, interviewed by phone from Addis Abeba, "Paula Radliffe could run the best race of her life in Ostend, but the one to watch is Wami.
"I have never seen anyone finish faster than Gete and I really think that she will win."