Monthly Archives: March 2013

You could pretty much be sure nearly all of the world’s leading long-distance runners in years gone by would give the World Cross-Country Championships their due regard. In recent years though, the championships has assumed a much lesser significance and the fact the championships are now held biannually and Bydgoszcz being the only city to express an interest in hosting this year’s edition speaks volumes of its declining importance. But perhaps this downhill trend could be arrested?

*The event has traditionally been held towards the end of March but perhaps it’s time to change the timing of the event to an earlier date? The European Cross-Country Championships being held midway through December might account for the dwindling European participation (although I should add I don’t have much sympathy for those who bemoan the East African dominance) but a more pertinent issue is the track season encroaching on the World Cross-Country Championships. A sizeable contingent of our leading cross-country exponents have prioritised the increasingly globally-attended track races in California in April and May (although you could argue there’s no reason why they can’t do both!) in order to attack the World Championships qualifying standards and expect this trend to remain as selectors ideally prefer multiple A standards. Whereas the Golden League, the centrepoint of the commercial track circuit, started in late June or July, its successor the Diamond League now starts in early May in Doha which puts the World Cross further on the periphery. Perhaps holding it a month earlier would be a more conducive time-slot as it would then be in sync with all of the top cross-country races on the continent which are held in January and early February? 

*Is there any logical reason why the women still only run 8km at the World Cross-Country Championships while the men run 12km? The marathon was introduced to the major championships programme in 1982 at the European Championships yet, for some reason, cross-country seems impervious to this change. I would love to see this aberration addressed and while this won’t be popular among the purists who bemoan how the National men’s race has been shortened, perhaps reducing the men’s race to 8km could also help to draw a greater cross-section of athletes?

*Tougher courses, rather than those resembling glorified track races, surely make for more exciting spectacles? Let’s hope for more testing courses such as Ostend in 2001 and Edinburgh in 2008 in the future as opposed to the manicured lawns of Marrakech in 1998 and Punta Umbria in 2011 to ensure the event retains its identity and reputation as one of the hardest races to win. 

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World Cross-Country Championships preview

The self-styled city of sport Bydgoszcz will play host to the 40th edition of the World Cross-Country Championships but despite the city’s reputation for hosting major championships athletics, the venue might not be the most popular choice. The 2010 edition was also staged in the central Polish town and an uninspiring course as well as a sparse crowd didn’t do much to boost life back into a fledgling event. This point is further illustrated by the championships now being held biannually and Bydgoszcz being the only city to express an interest in hosting the event this year.

In better news though, there will be live coverage on the BBC for the first time since 2009 and the Kenyan hegemony of the 2010 edition should be tamed as the Ethiopians, albeit without Tirunesh Dibaba, arrive buoyed after a much better Olympic Games than their Rift Valley rivals and ready to challenge the Kenyans, who have dominated recent editions.

Men’s race

Kenya swept the board when Bydgoszcz held the 2010 championships but don’t expect the same dominance this year. Their men’s senior team isn’t anywhere near as strong as it could be as Philemon Rono and Timothy Kiptoo, first and second at the Kenyan trials last month, haven’t even broke 13:20 for 5000m. However, they still finished ahead of a very competitive field at Uhuru Gardens in Nairobi containing more credentialed track exponents such as sub-27 10,000m runner Geoffrey Kirui and two-time world junior steeplechase champion Jonathan Ndiku, who are also on the Kenyan team.

On the other hand, the Ethiopian team includes many of their top names from the track including Imane Merga, who won the last championships in Punta Umbria in 2011. The reigning champion might start as a slight worry for the Ethiopians as he dropped out of the trial race but he dismissed these fears by accounting for a hard block of training in the build-up as the reason behind his DNF.

The team also includes sub-2:05 marathon-runner Feyisa Lilesa, who won the Ethiopian trials in Addis Ababa last month and Olympic 10,000m bronze medallist Tariku Bekele, who makes his first appearance at this event since 2007 where the debilitating conditions forced him, as well as his brother, to drop out of the race in Mombasa.

Uganda took a rare medal in the team race behind Kenya and Ethiopia in 2011 and their leading athlete Moses Kipsiro will be in contention for his third individual medal after taking silver in 2009 and bronze in 2010.

Eritrea will be without the services of 2007 champion Zersenay Tadese but 2010 silver medallist Teklemariam Medhin could feature in the medals again. 

Women’s race

The absence of Tirunesh Dibaba opens up the women’s race but while this is a blow for the Ethiopians, they will still be hoping a green-and-yellow vested athlete can win this title for the first time since 2008 when Dibaba won her third world cross-country title in Edinburgh.

The leading aspirant is arguably sub-9:10 steeplechaser Hiwot Ayalew, who has won all of her cross-country races this winter, including a nine-second victory in the trials last month. She’s joined on the team by perennial world cross-country medallist Meselech Melkamu, who is preparing for the Virgin London Marathon in April, and Olympic 10,000m fifth-placer Belaynesh Oljira.

The Kenyan women’s team also has a new look to it as reigning champion Vivian Cheruiyot and four-time senior medallist Linet Masai have both chosen to give this event a miss while African champion Mercy Cherono was dropped by the head-coach after suffering from a stomach infection.

First and second at the trials, Margaret Muriuki and Irene Cheptai are now expected to mount the Kenyan challenge along with Emily Chebet, who was the unexpected winner of the gold medal when the championships were held in Bydgoszcz in 2010.

One of the leading non-African challengers is Fionnuala Britton and while it will be too much to expect her to replicate the achievements of past champion Sonia O’Sullivan, the two-time European cross-country champion should challenge for a top-ten finish.

The British team has an outside chance of capturing a bronze medal in the team race as the squad contains Lauren Howarth, who was the leading European finisher in the junior race in 2009, National and Inter-Counties winner Louise Damen and former European junior cross-country champion Stephanie Twell.

Junior women’s race

Emelia Gorecka was the youngest participant in the junior race when she finished 23rd in Bydgoszcz but three years later, the AFD athlete will be one of the most experienced competitors on the start-line and the 19-year-old’s ambition is to cap her illustrious junior career with a top-10 finish in this race.

The Mick Woods-coached athlete was the top European finisher in 15th in 2011 and since then, Gorecka has won medals on the track at the European Junior Championships and World Junior Championships last year, proving the Brits can still compete with the East Africans. She also won the European junior cross-country title in 2011 and although she lost her crown to the 1500m specialist Amela Terzic last year, the 6km course in Bydgoszcz should suit Gorecka more than the 4km course did in Szentendre.

Suffice to say, the East Africans will surely decide the medals between themselves and while the Ethiopians have a stronger squad overall, the Kenyan team is spearheaded by reigning champion and world junior 1500m champion Faith Kipyegon, who won the Kenyan trials by eight-seconds from world junior 5000m bronze medallist Agnes Chebet.

The Ethiopians still come to this race with real aspirations of winning this title again and Buze Diriba has the credentials to challenge Kipyegon. After winning the world junior 5000m title from team-mate Ruti Aga, who is another of the leading contenders, Diriba set PBs at 3000m of 8:39.65 and 5000m of 14:53.06 which are unmatched against this field. However, she was beaten in the trials by Alemitu Haroye, who still has two seasons left in the under-20 division.

Junior men’s race

Ethiopia must surely win this race for the first time since 2009 as their squad includes an athlete who could have challenged for the gold medal in the senior race. That athlete is 18-year-old Hagos Gebrhiwet, the holder of the world junior 5000m record at 12:47.53 which is some six seconds faster than Mo Farah’s UK record! As expected, he comfortably won the trials and more importantly, he also beat Galen Rupp in a 3000m race in Boston in another world junior record of 7:32.87.

Their team also includes reigning world junior 5000m and 10,000m champions Muktar Edris and Yigrem Demelash (moved into the senior race) and the latter finished second to Lilesa in the senior trials race.

The Kenyans aren’t particularly renowned internationally but their squad is headed by Ronald Chebolei, who has to be respected after winning the Kenyan trials. It will be interesting to see how Conseslus Kipruto fares though, as he could even feature at the World Championships on the track this summer. Although he was only sixth at the trials and some 30-seconds behind the winner, the 18-year-old is a huge prospect in the steeplechase as he won the world junior title last year and boasts a PB of 8:03.49. 

The conundrum of Commonwealth Games qualifying

The Commonwealth Games have historically been used as a championships to blood up-and-coming athletes. A 17-year-old Steve Cram, for example, made his major championships debut for England in 1978 but elitism, as was also the case with the European Indoor Championships, will be the over-riding impression of the team judging from the mind-boggling qualifying standards set by England Athletics. While I’m not against tough qualifying standards in theory, it does seem rather ludicrous in this environment as medals could potentially be lost as some of the standards are actually in excess of recent gold medal winning marks! This is contradictory to the selection brief as the very first line states how “EA will nominate a team with the intention of achieving the highest possible number of top-8 places.” But why then, for example, is the women’s A standard 20cm in excess of the winning mark from the 2010 Games in Delhi?

Hopefully they will be used as nothing more than a guide and the selectors will use their discretion if necessary in order to ensure the strongest possible team because, as outlined below, the qualifying standards in the vast majority of events are very misguided.

Men’s 100m – 10.15, 200m – 20.30

Why is the A standard more than two-tenths faster than the corresponding mark for the World Championships when the selection criteria for both championships is a team capable of a top-eight finish in the final? In what sort of world is 20.52 deemed sufficient to make a World Championships final yet anyone running slower than 20.30 won’t make the top-eight in the Commonwealth Games?!

10.17 and 10.20 were good enough for medals in the last two 100m finals while 20.47 and 20.45 were the winning times in the last two 200m finals. The leading Caribbeans normally give the Commonwealths a wide berth so medals will no doubt be won in slower times than the A standard.

400m – 45.00

Only three times has the gold medallist broken the 45-second in the Commonwealth final. 45.44 would have sufficed for the title in 2010 and 45.09 would have taken silver in 2002 and 2006.

1500m – 3:36.0

2002 champion Mike East probably wouldn’t have made the English team had these standards been implemented in the lead-up to the last home championships. His pre-Games PB was 3:38.94.

5000m – 13:03.00

Money and resources have been heavily pumped into the British endurance programme but the long-distance team will have sparse representation in Glasgow if the selectors adhere to this mark as only two British athletes have ever bettered this mark. Rob Denmark was the last British winner in 1994 but he wouldn’t have even made the England team if the same standards applied back then as he didn’t break 13:20 leading up to the Games.

10,000m – 27:50.00

While not as intimidating as the 5000m standard, this mark is still unnecessarily steep. The Kenyans never send their best runners and anyone running inside 28-minutes will be competitive next year.

400m hurdles – 49.10

Chris Rawlinson won in 2002 in a slower time.

3000m steeplechase – 8:25.00

A standard is one-second faster than the World Championships ‘A’ standard.

Pole-vault – 5.60m

Steve Hooker cleared 5.60m to win the Commonwealth title in 2010. Only twice has the gold medal been won with a higher vault.

Long jump – 8.10m

While the balance of power in world long jumping is largely with Commonwealth athletes, 8.10m will easily suffice for a top-eight finish.

Shot put – 19.80m

The gold medal has only been won in a distance in excess of the A standard four times in Commonwealth Games history.

Discus throw – 63.00m, hammer – 72.50m, javelin – 80.00m

59m would have sufficed for a discus medal in 2002, 68m would have won a hammer medal in 2002 and Nick Nieland’s winning mark in 2006 was only 10cm in excess of the javelin A standard.

Women’s 100m – 11.25

2010 was admittedly a poor championships for the 100m but 11.39 would have won bronze in 2006. The A standard is also faster than the World Championships standard of 11.28.

200m – 22.90

The A standard is 0.15 faster than the corresponding mark for Moscow. 22.90 would have won a medal in the highly competitive 2006 final including the top Jamaicans and Cydonie Mothersill.

800m – 1:59.90

A rather arbitrary mark. Why not 2:00.00?!

1500m – 4:06.50

A fairly reasonable mark given the standard among Commonwealth athletes but similarly to Mike East, 2006 champion Lisa Dobriskey wouldn’t have made the England team for Melbourne if 4:06.50 the qualifying standard.

100m hurdles – 12.96

Anything around the 13-second mark puts you in medal contention. Bronze was won in 13.25 last time round, for example.

3000m steeplechase – 9:42.00

Marginally tougher than the ‘A’ standard for the World Championships, strangely.

High jump – 1.90m

Not reflective of the standards among Commonwealth jumpers. 1.83m and 1.88m were medal-winning heights in 2002 and 2006 respectively.

Pole-vault – 4.40m

4.25m would have sufficed for medals at the past two Games.

Long jump – 6.70m

The horizontal jumpers once more have drawn the short straw. A distance 20cm below the A standard would have won gold in Delhi while 6.49m would have sufficed for a medal in Manchester. Jo Wise, the last British-born winner of the title, won in 1998 with 6.63m.

Discus throw – 59.50m

Generally sufficient to make the rostrum against Commonwealth opposition.

Hammer – 66.50m

The ‘A’ standard would have won medals at every Games thus far and 64.04m was good enough for a medal in 2010.

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European Indoor Championships – a statistical round-up

As published by Athletics Weekly on March 6

Men

60m

*Jimmy Vicaut and James Dasaolu were awarded an identical time in the final of 6.48. The last time the top-two couldn’t be separated by hundredths was when the Scandinavium played host to the European Indoor Championships in 1984.

*Dasaolu’s silver medal extends Britain’s record of winning at least one medal in the 60m to fourteen consecutive editions.

*This year was the first time two athletes went under the 6.5-barrier in the final and Dasaolu’s time would have sufficed for the title at all but one previous edition.

*Vicaut and Dasaolu move to equal fifth on the European indoor all-time rankings. British sprinters own five of the seven fastest times ever over 60m in Europe with French athletes holding the other two.

400m

*Pavel Maslak’s winning time of 45.66 was a Swedish all-comers’ record. He also became the first athlete to simultaneously hold European indoor and outdoor 400m titles since Du’aine Ladejo in 1994.

*Britain fielded three athletes in both men’s and women’s finals for the first time ever.

800m

*Adam Kszczot became the first athlete to defend this title since Yevgeniy Arzhanov in 1971.

*Mukhtar Mohammed picked up Britain’s first medal of any description since Tom McKean won gold on home-soil in Glasgow in 1990.

1500m

*Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad’s winning time of 3:37.17 was the second fastest ever after Ivan Heshko’s 3:36.70 championship record in 2005.

*His winning margin of 0.05 from Ilham Tanui Ozbilen was the smallest in the championship’s history.

*The Spaniards failed to win a medal in the final for the first time since 1998.

3000m

*Hayle Ibrahimov provided Azerbaijan with their first gold medal in any event in the history of the European Indoor Championships.

*At 34y and 211d, Juan Carlos Higuero replaced John Mayock (34y and 130d in 2005) as the oldest ever medallist in the 3000m.

60m hurdles

*Sergey Shubenkov’s winning time of 7.49 has only been bettered three times – once by Thomas Munkelt in 1983 and twice by Colin Jackson in 1994 and 2002.

*Paolo Dal Molin set an Italian record of 7.51 to win his country’s first medal in this event since 1986.

4x400m

*Britain’s winning time of 3:05.78 was the second fastest time ever recorded at these championships.

*Nigel Levine’s split of 45.74 was the fastest on the third-leg by 0.65.

Long jump

*Michel Torneus’ 8.29m leap was the longest ever non-gold medal winning mark at these championships.

Triple jump

*Daniele Greco’s shock leap of 17.70m was the second longest winning distance ever after Teddy Tamgho improved the world indoor record to 17.92m in 2011.

*His winning margin of 40cm was the largest since 1990.

High jump

*Russia claimed two medals in the high jump for the third successive edition of the European Indoor Championships.

Pole-vault

*Renaud Lavillenie became the first vaulter to win three gold medals in succession.

*The Frenchman is the only athlete to surpass 6m at the European Indoor Championships and he’s done so twice now. He cleared 6.03m in 2011 and 6.01m this year.

*His winning margin of 25cm has only been bettered once – by himself when he won in 2011 by 27cm.

Shot put

*Gold medallist Asmir Kolasinac from Serbia and silver medallist Hamza Alic from Bosnia & Herzogovina created history by winning their country’s first ever European indoor medals.

Heptathlon

*Eelco Sintnicolaas’ winning score of 6372 was the best mark by a European in nine years.

*At 21y and 21d, Kevin Mayer became the youngest ever heptathlon medallist by six days. His score of 6297 moved him to tenth on the European indoor all-time rankings and this mark was also a European under-23 record.

Women

60m

*Just 0.01 separated the medallists making it the closest ever European indoor sprint final.

*Ivet Lalova’s time of 7.12 was the fastest ever non-medal winning mark.

*Asha Philip equalled her 7.15 PB in the final which was the second fastest time ever achieved by a Brit at these championships.

*An incredible standard saw Ezinne Okparaebo and Verena Sailer finish seventh and eighth respectively in 7.16. This would have either equalled or bettered the gold medallist’s time at three of the five most recent previous European indoor finals.

400m

*GB’s 1-2 was the first time the same nation claimed gold and silver in the 400m since 1990.

*Perri Shakes-Drayton’s winning time of 50.85 would have won gold at two of the three most recent editions of the World Indoor Championships, and silver at the other.

*In terms of 400m hurdlers, only Sabine Busch (50.01), Nicola Sanders (50.02), Vania Stambolova (50.21), Irina Privalova (50.23), Natalya Antyukh (50.37) and Ionela Tirlea (50.56) have run faster than Shakes-Drayton indoors.

*Ksenia Ustalova’s fall in the semi-final meant the final was for the first time devoid of a Russian finalist.

800m

*Nataliya Lupu became the second former European junior champion to also win this title after Ludmila Formanova in 1998.

*Maryna Arzamasava’s bronze medal adds to her family’s tally as her late mother Ravilya Agletdinova won the European outdoor 1500m title in 1986.

1500m

*Abeba Aregawi’s winning margin of 9.72 was by far the largest ever at these championships. The previous largest was 3.73 back in 1972.

3000m

*Sara Moreira became the second Portuguese to win this title after Fernanda Ribeiro in 1994 and 1996.

*Her winning time of 8:58.80 was the slowest since 1992.

60m hurdles

*Nevin Yanit and Alina Talay became the first Turkish and Belarussians to win medals in this event while Veronica Borsi won Italy’s first 60m hurdles medal since 1977.

*Only six-hundredths separated the top four finishers which was the smallest margin ever.

4x400m

*Great Britain took a relay double with gold medals in both finals. This was the first time the same nation has won both titles at the same championships.

*The quartet set a championship and national record of 3:27.56 which moved Britain from sixth to third on the European indoor all-time rankings.

Long jump

*Darya Klishina achieved the championship’s first 7m-plus jump since Heike Drechsler won her fourth title in 1994 with 7.06m.

*Klishina’s winning mark of 7.01m equalled the best mark achieved indoors by a European this millennium.

*Erica Jarder’s final round 6.71m PB sufficed for Sweden’s first medal from this event since Erica Johansson won the title in 2000.

Triple jump

*Olha Saladuha’s winning margin of 58cm was the largest in championship history.

*Her winning mark of 14.88m was the joint second longest ever and the best since Ashia Hansen’s championship record of 15.16m in 1998.

High jump

*Ruth Beitia’s winning mark of 1.99m was the lowest winning height since 1998.

*Sweden scooped up silver and bronze through Ebba Jungmark and Emma Green-Tregaro. This was the first time the same country fielded two athletes on the podium since Bulgarians took gold and silver medals in 1994.

*The ages of the finalists ranged from 19-year-old Alessia Trost to 38-year-old Venelina Veneva-Mateeva, who competed at the 1991 World Championships before Trost was even born.

Pole-vault

*Holly Bleasdale’s gold medal was the first British medal in this event from either sex in European Indoor Championships history.

*Her winning vault of 4.67m was the lowest winning height since 2000.

Shot put

*Christina Schwanitz’s gold medal meant German athletes have won five of the nine medals on offer from the last three championships in the shot put.

Pentathlon

*Ida Antoniette Nana Djimou became the second athlete to retain this title after Carolina Kluft in 2007.

*Her winning score of 4666 was the second lowest in championship history though, and would have only placed seventh in Birmingham in 2007 where Kelly Sotherton and Jessica Ennis finished second and sixth with 4927 and 4716 respectively.

*18-year-old Sofia Linde finished fifth on home-soil with a PB of 4531. This was a mere four points below Kluft’s national indoor junior record and she still has another year left in the junior ranks.

Miscellaneous

*The Russian men outperformed the women for the first time in European Indoor Championship history. They won three gold medals and eight in total while the women won one gold and six overall.

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