GUIYANG, March 27- The World Cross Country Championships has a future as a global attraction in the sport despite declining interest particularly in Europe IAAF President, Lamine Diack, declared on the eve of the 41st edition of the biennial showdown in Guiyang, China Thursday.
Speaking at the IAAF Press Conference in the lakeside Chinese city that is hosting the biennial showpiece in the Far East giant for the first time, Diack called on the rest of the world to catch up to the East Africa dominance.
“This year, 51 national members have sent teams comprising 436 runners to Guiyang which makes this championship is the largest in recent years. There are first time athletes from Bhutan, North Korea and Singapore.
“The World Cross presents the pinnacle of long distance running competition. The roll call of past champions reads like who and who of athletics greatness,” Diack said at the Olympics Sports Centre in Guiyang.
He challenged Europeans to stop dismissing the multi-discipline distance event as ‘cross country is in Africa’ challenging them to emulate Guiyang World Cross ambassador and double female World Cross champion from 1998, the Irish born Australian, Sonia O’Sullivan who was present.
“She used to dominate all of us. We have to reflect on that and try to catch up with East African runners- Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Uganda runners, not Senegal- Sonia has helped to inspire a generation on the importance of cross country,” the outgoing Senegalese IAAF boss added.
“We look forward for an exciting race on Saturday. The course will offer a true test of endurance. Emily Chebet returns to defend her senior women’s title she won in Bydgoszcz in 2010 and 2013.
“While we can expect the usual battle between Eritrea, Ethiopia and Kenya, the team medals won by Bahrain, Great Britain and United States of America in 2013 prove you don’t have to be an East African to do cross country running,” Diack spoke of Saturday’s biennial global showpiece.
On the future of the event, Diack reiterated it lay in the hands of individual continents that have been given an opportunity to hold area events in the gap year of the World Cross.
“We came to a conclusion we have to develop the continents. The World Cross was considered as an East Africa affair. Europe holds their championships every year in December and I think we have to go this way.
“We had a seminar (in Europe) to convince people athletes have to do cross country because coaches were convincing runners not to run cross country. The conclusion was to push cross country at the world level every two years and continental events every year,” he underscored.
Director of Chinese Athletics Association, Du Zhaocai, who was speaking on behalf of the Local Organising Committee, said Guiyang was chosen to bid for the event because of its unique landscape and established tradition in the event.
“For 44 years, Guiyang has hosted cross country running including 10 national championships and one Asian Cross Country Championships. It is the home of cross country running in China,” he added.
Athletes will vie for individual and team honours in the men senior 12km, women senior 8km, men junior 8km and women junior 6km races with a prize pool of $280,000 (Sh 25,634,191.00).
The cash prizes are set for senior runners only with individual gold winners taking home $30,000 (Sh 2,746,520.46) with silver and bronze medallists settling for $15,000 (Sh1,373,260.23) and $10,000 (Sh 915,506.82) each.
-Mutwiri Mutuota is reporting from Guiyang