It is now official: World Cross Country legend Kenenisa Bekele will skip Sunday’s championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland, and hand Kenya’s men another chance at an elusive title.
This will be the second time in a row that the Ethiopian will miss in action since he ascended to the winner’s podium in the senior men’s 12km at Dublin 2002.
Bekele’s successful defence of the long- and short course titles at the 2003 World Cross in Switzerland heralded trouble for a sport then dominated by Kenya, as if the witches of Shakespeare’s Macbeth had cast a spell on the country’s endurance running.
Since the collapse of the great reign of Paul Tergat in Vilamoura, Portugal, partly due to Athletics Kenya’s poor leadership skills, the country’s cross country prospects were dimmed. Kenya had reigned supreme in 25 of 26 World Cross events.
For 11 years Tergat’s big shoes lie waiting for a wearer, and that might be realised after Bekele failed to recover from injury. Three-time winner Tirunesh Dibaba will however lead a star-studded Ethiopian line-up in Bydgoszcz.
Plagued by a calf injury that wiped out his entire indoor season – including possible world 3,000m record attempts in Birmingham, UK, and Lievine, France – Bekele, 27, has made just one appearance this season.
In his absence, defending world champion Gebregziabher Gebremariam, who stood tall in Amman, has been given a wild card to the senior men’s squad.
The biggest news, however, is that two-time world junior champion Genzebe Dibaba will be leading a strong junior women’s team despite her having dropped out of the senior women’s race at the Ethiopian trials last month due to injury.
‘I don’t care’
Genzebe was expected to move up a cadre after triumphing in the juniors, just like Kenya’s Linet Masai. But she has insisted on defending her crown in Poland, putting her in confrontation with Mercy Cherono, the 6km silver medallist in Amman.
“I don’t care whether she is in the team or not,” said Cherono. “What is clear is that I am more experienced now.”
But the star of the squad is Tirunesh Dibaba, 24, a three-time senior women’s champion who will be returning to the championships since 2008.
Joining her in the strong senior women’s squad are trials winner and world 10,000m silver medallist Meselech Melkamu and 2010 Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon winner Mamitu Daska.
Tirunesh Dibaba will face Masai, the only Kenyan to beat her this season. Masai outpaced Dibaba in New York in the 5,000m but the Ethiopian got her revenge in a race in Europe last November.
6km Junior Women: Afera Gudfai, Genet Yalew, Emebet Anteneh, Waganesh Mekasha, Merima Mohammod, Genzebe Dibaba; 8km Junior Men: Yekeber Beyibel, Gebretsadik Abraha, Mesenet Geremew, Belete Assefa, Gashaw Biftu, Debebe Woldesenbet; 8km Senior Women: Tirunesh Dibaba, Meselech Melkamu, Mamitu Daska, Workinesh Kidane, Feyisse Tadesse, Abebech Afework, Belayenesh Wakjira (reserve); 12km Senior Men: Azmeraw Bekele, Ayele Abshero, Abera Kuma, Hunegnaw Mesfin, Feyissa Lelisa, Gebregziabher Gebremariam, Dino Sefer (reserve)