Tanya Blake (Malta) (copyright Wally Galea) © Copyright
General News

Small teams, large ambitions - Malta and Uganda in Paris

The 9th IAAF World Championships in Athletics, Paris 2003 Saint-Denis will welcome 203 federations from the IAAF family, but while much of the focus is on the major names included in the large teams from super powers like the USA and Russia, the majority of Federations are represented by smaller, yet no less committed squads of athletes.

Here we highlight two such teams – Malta and Uganda

MALTA – No miracles expected! 

Team - Tanya Blake (women’s 800m) and Darren Gilford (men’s 100m)

This year has been a memorable one for Maltese athletics.  The sixteen medals won at the Games for Small States of Europe – a small scale version of the Olympics in which European nations with a population of less than a million take part – was a record haul and confirmed months of steady improvement. This success was further underlined by the setting of thirteen new national records during the same event.

Tony Chircop, president of the Malta Amateur Athletic Association, is understandably pleased with these achievements. “We had the highest number of records ever established in one year, in fact I have lost count!”

More so since the most encouraging results have come from athletes who either are in their teens or are still very much in the development stage.  Athletes like Celine Pace, Lara Scerri, Rebecca Camilleri, Edwin Zammit, Jeandre Mallia and Nikolai Portelli who guarantee a bright future for Maltese athletics.

“This proves that our policy of working hard to 'improve the standard overall in the belief that medals and results will come by themselves’ has been proven right,” says Chircop.  “Naturally credit for this improvement goes to the athletes themselves, their dedicated coaches and the clubs who have been setting up and organising the training programmes. On our part, the association has been working on more specialised courses for coaches and will continue to do so in the future.”

But no Maltese athlete could equal the success of Tanya Blake. After years of going close to breaking the two-minute mark in the women’s 800 metres, last May Blake finally managed to record a time of 1:59.56 at the Prefontaine Classic Grand Prix in Oregon.

“It was just a relief, a big relief,” she says.  “I was still running at two-o-one and two-o-two which was great, but it wasn’t good enough.  It (this result) makes a big difference.  A big, big difference.”

It also meant automatic qualification both for the World Championships and the Olympics.  ““It feels great to have qualified for the World Championships especially as the qualifying standards have become so high.”  Even so, she admits that “I am more pleased to have also qualified for Athens. Every athlete dreams of competing in the Olympics.”

For Maltese athletics, it was an equally important result, as Chircop explained.  “Malta's ability to have one athlete who has qualified for the World Championships on her own merits is a something that IAAF President Lamine Diack has been insisting for from each association  for a couple of years now.”

“This is a great achievement and we are proud of Tanya.”

There were hopes that her success wouldn’t be the only one – “actually I had strong hopes and ambition that we would even have a male athlete who should have qualified at least in 'B' standard.” – but it wasn’t to be.

Darren Gilford will be the male athlete representing Malta at the World Championships on the strength of the 10.56 time he registered in the 100m final of the GSSE, even though he later improved on that mark during the national championships (10.55).   Having taken part in the World Indoor Championships and the European Under 23 Championships, he already has some experience of major events.

Over the past weeks, he has been training with the aim of hitting his peak in Paris.  “I have been training to get to my best form as well as taking part in some events in Belgium, so as to run under competitive pressure.”

Both Blake and Gilford are aware that in Paris they will come across some of the sport’s best athletes. Yet both have a positive outlook.

Darren Gilford stressed that he only will concentrate on his own race. “I will only look at how I run, I won’t pay any attention to those around me.  Obviously, it is an experience to compete against such athletes but I will simply be looking to improve my personal best and set a new national record.  I’m confident that I can achieve that.  I also hope to qualify through the heats, but that will follow if I do set a new personal best.”

Blake, whose form has tailed off in recent weeks, is also focusing on her abilities rather than looking at those who will be alongside her on the starting line.  “I hope to run well,” is all she is looking for at the World Championships.

No one is putting either athlete under any undue pressure and, like so many others taking part in Paris, a personal best would be considered as success.  “We would be satisfied if our two athletes would register personal best times, or at least very close, irrespective of the position that they would place,” confirmed Tony Chircop.  “We know that the standard is extremely high and are not expecting any miracles. We never do in fact.”

Paul Grech for the IAAF

UGANDA – Great young talents

Team: Dorcus Inzikuru (women’s 5000m) Boniface Kiprop (men’s 5000m)

Uganda’s newly crowned double African Junior Champion Boniface Kiprop and compatriot Dorcus Inzikuru will represent Uganda at the 9th IAAF World Championships in Athletics

Both Athletes have been entered to take part in the very competitive 5000m events having set themselves a realistic target of qualifying for the final.

Inzikuru is the 2000 women’s World Junior 5000m champion and last season’s African senior championships silver medallist hopes – she finished behind Paris favourite Berhane Adere – hopes to put another solid performance to round of a rewarding season highlighted by a second place finish and an Area record (9:39.51) in the 3000m steeplechase at the Gspike Meeting in Ostrava.

She also finished in a time of 8:46.29 over the flat 3000m at the IAAF Golden League meeting in Paris in July, which was a new National record.

Kiprop, on the other hand, surprised many in 2002 when he came in third in the junior men’s race at the World Cross country championships in Dublin to win his country’s first medal at the championships, having earlier given a top class field of Ethiopian runners an early run for their money - eventually finish seventh - in the 23rd Ethiopian Cross country championships in March.

Still only 17 years of age, he also set a national senior and junior record time of 13:16.21 in the 5000m for an finish place eighth in Ostrava in June.

Kiprop is Uganda’s youngest ever participant at the World championships and will hope to build on his most recent feat of winning gold in both the 5000m and 10,000m races at the African Junior Championships which were held in the Northern Cameroon city of Garoua (July 31- August 3rd 2003).

Elshadai Negash for the IAAF