Bekele the favourite as weather fails to halt Edinburgh race

January 13th, 2007 Print Print Email Email

JONATHAN COATES

January 13th, 2007

Kenenisa Bekele TO THE delight of the many runners who rate Holyrood Park as proud possessor of the world’s finest course, today’s Great Edinburgh International Cross-Country was given the green light by safety inspectors yesterday morning as 40mph winds whistled around Arthur’s Seat.

“Cross-country running is all about the rough and tough,” said race organiser Dave Martin last night.

“It’s quite muddy but everything is going ahead – they are quite happy with the barriers and the state of the ground where spectators will be standing.”

The news of the all-clear – the weather forecast for today is wet, but not windy – would also have come as a relief to the BBC, which is screening live coverage of the afternoon’s three international races on Grandstand, starting with the men’s four-kilometre at 1.05pm, followed by the women’s 7km 20 minutes later and the men’s 9km at 2pm.

Britain’s European champion Mo Farah goes in the short-course race against Sergiy Lebid, crowned king of Europe six times, and Olympic 1500m bronze medallist Rui Silva from Portugal. The race is open to foreigners for the first time, heightening the adversity that faces Geordie Nick McCormick as he seeks his third title in a row.

The long-course event is graced by the world leader in cross-country running, Kenenisa Bekele of Ethiopia, whose path was smoothed somewhat by the withdrawal through injury earlier this week of Australian Craig Mottram.

In his absence, Bekele’s primary opponents are likely to be Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge and Eritrean Zersenay Tadesse.

Australian doyenne Benita Johnson is expected to lead the charge in the women’s race and Scottish title-holder Freya Murray, who won’t compete today after running last week’s Cross Zornotza Internacional in Amorebieta, says the former world champion will not be holding back.

“A lot of top runners are starting to consider this their favourite course, and now that we’ll be holding the world championships here, they will be keen to get a feel for it ahead of 2008,” she said.

The threat to Johnson will be posed by the likes of Vivian Cheruiyot of Kenya, who beat the Australian by four seconds in Amorebieta, and dual world bronze medallist Meselech Melkamu from Ethiopia.

Although Scottish competitors in the flagship races will be thin on the ground, many eyes will be on Farah, who is also an exciting long-distance track prospect. The Somalia-born Englishman denied having shied away from a date with Bekele by opting for the shorter event.

“It’s only a month since I scored my [European championships] victory in Italy and since then I’ve had two very hard cross-country races,” said the 23-year-old. “They took a lot out of me, particularly last Sunday’s race in Amorebieta. It stretched me to the limit and I finished worn out.

“Despite what I have achieved and obviously how pleased I am with my improvement, I still don’t think I’m ready yet to mix it with the likes of Bekele. Being realistic, I still think it will be another year before I am ready to move up to that level.”

McCormick, who recovered from a fall to win over 4km last year, was enthusiastic about taking on the man who brought Britain a European track silver over 5000m last summer.

“I’m looking forward to Edinburgh although obviously, with some good foreigners and Mo in the field, it’s going to be much harder than in the past,” he said. “But I’m not letting myself get intimidated by their presence.”

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