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Tergat and Ouaziz give flying start to Seville Championship Year

Tergat and Ouaziz get Seville's World Championship Year off to a flying start
 Phil Minshull in Seville for the IAAF

Seville plays host to the 7th IAAF World Championships in August and if the form showed by Kenya’s Paul Tergat and Morocco’s Zohra Ouaziz in the latest round of the IAAF World Cross Challenge is anything to go by, then the pair are likely to be among the medals when they return to the Spanish city later in the year.

Tergat said he was tired during the race, having flown in direct from Kenya on Saturday, but he showed no outward signs of being sluggish over the 10.5 kilometres of windy course around the site of a Roman settlement on the outskirts of Seville.

After having to ease his way through a crowded field for the first two kilometres, he finally joined the pack at the front being lead by Ethiopia’s Girma Tola.

However Tergat and his compatriot Paul Koech were on their own shortly after the halfway point and from then it was solely a question of which Kenyan would triumph.

After a long drawn-out battle for the line over the final few kilometres, Tergat came home in 30:56 with Koech four seconds in arrears.

The difference was exaggerated by Koech misjudging the final sharp turn into the finishing straight but he was the first to admit that his error of judgement was not what decided the race.

A long way back in third was the early leader Tola in 31:20. Belgium’s Mohamed Mourit, who finished sixth in Seville, goes to the top of the IAAF World Cross Challenge rankings with 45 points.

Tergat is now eagerly anticipating his attempt to lift a record-breaking fifth consecutive IAAF World Cross Country crown in March. "It’s difficult to say whether my condition is better or worse than in previous years but what this race does tell me is that there are no major problems."

Ouaziz made a stunning breakthrough in 1998 with silver medal in the World Cross Country short course event. Later in the year she set African records over 3,000 and 5,000 on the track, and further honours are almost certainly on the way in the next twelve months.

She produced a well-timed burst of speed in the final 500 metres to put to stop Gete Wami’s winning streak at five, stretching back over all distances to September.

The racing in the women’s 6.1km event started after the first third of the race. A group of eight had put space between themselves and the rest of the field.

By 4km the main protagonists had been reduced to Ouaziz, Wami, her Ethiopian compatriot Merima Denboba and Kenya’s Jackline Maranga with Finland’s Annemari Sandell unable to stay with the African quartet.

With Wami and Ouaziz duelling for supremacy the other two were left to fight for the minor placings and in the finishing straight it was Ouaziz who dug deeper to cross the line in 21 minutes 34 seconds.

Wami finished one second, but no more than a metre further back, to retain her place at the top of the IAAF World Cross Challenge women’s rankings with 72 points after three races, following her victories in Brussels and Durham.

"After being beaten by Gete in Amorebieta last week, I deliberately tried to hold back as much as I could," said Ouaziz. "I thought I knew where she might make her move and decided to kick first and hopefully surprise her."

"This has given me a big boost for the rest of the season." Ouaziz now embarks on a varied programme of cross country and indoor racing leading up to the IAAF World Indoor Championships in Maebashi, Japan, where she intends to contest the 3,000.

"After that I’m going to the World Cross Country Championships. I have not decided whether to go for the long or short event but at the moment I think I might try and defend my short course silver - or maybe go one better!"

The next round of the IAAF World Cross Challenge will be the 23rd Almond Blossom Classic in Vilamoura, Portugal, on February 7th.