Australia's Johnson (centre) battles with Ethiopia's Kidane (848) and Timbilili (KEN) (Getty Images) © Copyright
General News 9 March 2005 – Monte

Taking the fight to the Africans – World Cross Country

MonteCarloAustralia’s Benita Johnson, the reigning World Cross Country women’s long race champion will be returning to defend her crown when the 33rd edition of the IAAF World Cross Country Championships are contested in St-Etienne/St-Galmier, France, 19-20 March 2005.

Johnson who won the Australian 5000m track title on Saturday in Sydney was the only non-Ethiopian, Kenyan or Ugandan individual medallist in Brussels last year. Yet it would be a grave oversight to imagine that the 25 year-old is the lone successful exception in an otherwise regular East African distance running party.

In the women’s long race, of the 20 individual championship titles which have been at stake from 1985 to 2004, 13 have been won either by European or American runners or as was the case last year, Oceania’s first ever World Cross Country medallist thanks to Johnson. Of these champions, multiple long race winners such as Zola Budd (ENG 1985/86), Annette Sergent (FRA – 1987, 89), Lynn Jennings (USA 1990/91/ 1992) and Paula Radcliffe (2001/02) are all legendary names in our sport.

Also, we shouldn’t overlook the marvellous Marrakesh long and short race double (1998) of Ireland’s Sonia O’Sullivan.

Team success in the women’s long race has not been so easy to attain for the non-East African nations, with only seven of the last 20 titles prised away from Kenya and Ethiopia’s talented grip. Yet it is by no means an all-African affair as can be witnessed by last year’s team contest. Far behind the gold and silver winners Ethiopia and Kenyan, the next ten best nations were all either from Europe, America or Asia (Japan).

Johnson was the surprise face of the 2004 championships in Brussels but this year with major cross country circuit wins in Amorebieta - Spain, Hannut - Belgium, San Sebastián - Spain, and the famous Cinque Mulini (Milan) - Italy, there is no doubting both her fame and her credentials for defending her long race title in St-Etienne/St-Galmier on Saturday 19 March 2005.