Saif Saaeed Shaheen of Qatar wins the 3000m Steeplechase in Helsinki (Getty Images) © Copyright
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Shaheen to concentrate on the flat in 2006

Renato Canova, the respected international coach from Turin, Italy, who guided Qatar's Saif Saaeed Shaheen to a second consecutive World Championship title at 3000m Steeplechase in Helsinki in August, has confirmed that his protégé will pursue new goals next summer, running the flat 1500m, the 3000m and the 5000m distances more often.

"Stephen (Shaheen is the former Kenyan Stephen Cherono) will run only a few Steeplechase races next summer. He is likely to run the Steeplechase event in Zürich and Brussels…, in the IAAF World Cup in Athens, and in the Asian Games in Doha, Qatar, which are as important as the Olympic Games for the Qatari Federation,” said Canova, who also coaches Uganda's Dorcus Inzikuru, who won the inaugural women’s 3000m Steeplechase World title in Helsinki. 

“During the rest of the season he will run more often over flat distances at 1500, 3000 and 5000 metres. He has the potential to run 3:30 in the 1500m, 7:23 in the 3000m and 12:40 in the 5000m next year.”

Prone to injury and aiming at long standing World record

“The first reason why he will run more frequently over flat distances next year is due to his fragile body and his running style. By competing in too many steeple races he can damage his delicate tendons which are prone to the risk of injuries. The second reason is a technical one. He wants to set a long standing record in the Steeplechase. He is able to dip under 7:50. But this improvement is possible only if he runs faster over the flat distances. If he runs the 1500m in 3:30 he can improve to 7:48-7:50 in the 3000m Steeplechase.

No close rivals

"The third reason is a physiological one. Apart from the Golden Gala race (in Rome) where he took a very narrow win over Paul Kipsiele Koech he showed that he has no rivals in the 3000m Steeplechase. Any result different from a World record is seen as a disappointment by the media and the fans. But this summer we could not find pacemakers able to help him set a new World record. He has always had to run alone against the clock.”

“However, in the past he has always done his best in hard fought races where he has to beat other strong athletes rather than in races against the clock. The best example of his uncommon competitive gift is the World Athletics Final race in Monaco two years ago when he succeeded in closing a gap of ten metres on Paul Kipsiele Koech in the final lap to take a very narrow win in 7:57:38.”

Only by running against athletes like Kenenisa Bekele and Hicham El Guerrouj in the flat distances can he come face to face with different tactical situations which he can no longer encounter at his favourite event.

“He is not really interested in becoming the world number one in the 1500 metres but he wants to run this event in order to improve his tactical skills which can help him improve in the 3000m Steeplechase.”

A cross country challenge to Bekele

The World Cross Country Championships in Fukuoka, Japan (1-2 April 2006) are in Shaheen's plans for next winter. “He is one of the few athletes who can pose a threat to Bekele's dominance in the short race in the World Cross Country Championships if the course is not too muddy,” confirmed Canova. “But I am more interested in the long course race because it's here that he can develop his tactical skills in preparation for the summer season.”

Asked about the secret of Shaheen's success Canova said: “He always learns from his mistakes and it is unlikely that he repeats them twice. He races only when he is 100 percent fit because he wants to run for many years. His focus is… to grow as an athlete and to set new goals. He always wants to pursue something new and face new challenges.”

Diego Sampaolo for the IAAF