Saturday, March 24, 2007

Showtime in Mombasa

It has finally arrived. Today is the day for the 35th IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Mombasa, Kenya. Withinn the next two hours, we will know if Ethiopia can reclaim cross country dominance away from Kenya and if Kennenisa Bekele becomes the only man to ever win six senior men title.

The live feed from ETV is currently showing men's 10000M race from the 1st All Ethiopian Games at the Addis Ababa Stadium. They will be switching to the meet in Mombasa in the next ten minutes, in time for the senior women's race featuring Tirunesh, Meselech, Gelete, and others. I will be providing updates in the comment section to this post.

Best wishes for Team Ethiopia!!

Friday, March 23, 2007

History on the Horizon

Unlike the Olympics or World Championships, the IAAF Cross Country Championship is an annual event. So, the natural question to ask is what is special about this year’s edition of the championship. The answer is basically two-fold.

First, this year’s event is being held in Africa. Obviously, Africa produces the world’s best runners so it is only fitting that a major championship event is once again hosted by an African nation. And this time, not just any African nation, but Kenya- the absolute dominant country in the event for most of the past twenty years. Although I would argue that Ethiopia produces better championship caliber performers overall, there is no disputing that Kenya is unrivaled in the depth of talent it has on display in all major races around the world. It is not at all unusual for Kenyans to take seven or eight of the top ten positions in many of the major city road races. The fact that this year’s championship is held in Kenya is an acknowledgement of the contribution Kenya has made to the sport of running. Kenya should be congratulated for its athletes achievement since the late 1960’s, and all African’s should take pride that Kenya has
managed to bring a truly world class sporting event once again back to Africa.

Secondly, this year’s championship is special because Kennenisa Bekele has decided to compete in it. As a strange as it may sound, this one decision by one man has entirely changed the tone of the championship. One year ago, after winning his fifth consecutive long and short course double championship,
Kennenisa announced that he would not be running the 2007 race in Mombasa. He stated that there is really nothing more left for him to achieve in cross country having already won an unprecedented ten individual gold medals in the senior men race. He wanted to make room for the up-and-coming Ethiopian runners.

Following Kennenisa’s announcement, there were speculations all throughout the year whether he would stick by his words or have a change of heart and compete once more. Even some of the Kenyan athletes conceded that the race would simply not be the same without Kennenisa present, and whoever the champion turns out to be, he could really not claim to be a world champion without defeating Kennenisa.

As the championships neared, Kennenisa appeared to be sticking with his decision not to compete in Mombassa, but still left himself room to change his mind if he wanted to compete. In January this year, Kennenisa started hinting for an appearance fee to be paid to him to participate in Mombasa when he commented that he may run “if there is something special” offered to him. IAAF insists that no appearance fee has been paid to Kennenisa to participate.

The first big hint that Kennenisa was leaning towards running in Mombasa came when it was revealed that an open spot has been reserved on the team at the announcement of the
Ethiopian squad on March 1st. Few days later, on March 5th, Kennenisa announced that he would be participating in the Mombasa championship to defend his title in the senior men 12km race. In the press conference he gave today, he says that his participation is out of respect for his friends and rivals from Kenya.

Kennenisa cites his recent record setting performance in Birmingham and Stockholm as
additional reason for changing his decision of one year ago. It is obvious that he is convinced that he can win again or else he would not have been willing to take a risk of defeat on the home soil of his greatest rivals. A defeat in Mombasa will be a very bitter pill to swallow but a victory will distinguish Kennenisa high above all other cross country runners in history. Currently, Kennenisa’s five victories in the 12km race have him tied with the Kenyan legends Paul Tergat and John Ngugi, who have also won five titles each. A sixth victory tomorrow will prove that Kennenisa has no equal in cross county running. And to achieve this by beating Kenyans in Kenya will make it that much more special.

I am convinced that Kennenisa made his decision to compete in Mombasa much earlier than announced and simply kept quiet to keep his Kenyan rivals guessing. Now that the Kenyans know that Kennenisa will be in the race, they will leave no stone unturned in an attempt to protect their signature sport and their home turf from being
owned by Kennenisa. It is almost certain that a Kenyan team tactic will be deployed to tire out Kennenisa and throw him off his game plan. But I believe Kennenisa, with his experience and talent, will overcome any challenge and earn another victory.

In addition to the individual title, the team title will be highly contested tomorrow. Between 1986 and 2003, Kenya won the senior men team title for 18 consecutive years setting the longest winning streak in international sport. Ethiopia then took it away in 2004 and 2005 but Kenya regained it last year. It will be a great achievement for Ethiopia to take this back on Kenyan soil. And Ethiopia has strong enough field to achieve this goal. In addition to Kennenisa, his younger brother Tariku, Sileshi Sihine, and Abebe Dinkessa all have strong cross country credentials. The Ethiopian trial champion Tadesse Tola could also be the dark horse in this race.

Team scoring in cross country is simple- add up the finishing place of the top five runners on a team to get a team score. A perfect score is achieved if a team places its runners first to fifth for a score of 15 (1+2+3+4+5). The team with the lowest score wins. I believe Ethiopia can place two or three in the top five and all five scoring runners in the top ten.

On the
women’s side, the biggest drama may be entirely within the Ethiopian team. Tirunesh Dibaba is going for her third consecutive senior women victory which would tie her with the American Lynn Jennings from the 1990’s. However, I do not believe that Tirunesh is a lock for a victory. Meselech Melkamu is in absolute top form which she displayed in her indoor 3000M race in Stuttgart last month and her decisive victory at the Ethiopian Cross Country Trials earlier this month.

Also not to be counted out is
Gelete Burka who was the Junior Race champion two years ago and the Short Race champion last year. She has already won two cross country races this year in Edinburgh, Scotland and Seville, Spain. Add to that Wude Ayalew, who has had great results over the past couple of months, and I believe the Ethiopian women are a lock for a team victory tomorrow. I don’t believe it is far fetched to think these Ethiopian ladies could finish 1-2-3 in tomorrow’s race. If I have to pick an individual winner, I would go with Meselech Melkamu at this time simply because Tirunesh has not done any cross country racing so far in 2007. One other thing to note is how Maryam Jamal of Bahrain (formerly Zenebech Tola of Ethiopia) will fare competing among the Ethiopians. Apparently, Jamal is in good form as she showed in winning the Asian Cross Country championship in a dominating fashion. Also running in tomorrow’s race will be Turkey’s Elvan Abeylegesse, the former Ethiopian Hewan Abeye. The Kenyans will also have to contend with several formerly Kenyan athletes who now compete for another country including Netherlands’ Lornah Kiplagat.

The course on the grounds of Mombasa Golf Club is said to be flat and fast but the whether will be warm (mid 80’s) and humid (80%). When all is said and done, the weather could prove to be the toughest opponent for Kennenisa and the other runners alike.

We will have to wait few more hours to find out if history is made at the Mombasa race. As I mentioned on my last entry, I am excited to be watching all races live and providing up to the minute update here on ROOCHA.

You can watch the races for yourself if you are willing to pay a $6.95 subscription fee. For two weeks now, I have been watching a 24hour/7days live feed of Ethiopian Television (ETV) over the internet (must have broad-band connection) through
Jump TV. I had seen the banner ad on Ethiopian Review’s website (not to be considered an endorsement of content) for few months prior but decided to give it a try two weekends ago. I signed up for a one month access for $6.95. The day that I signed up happened to be the opening ceremony of the 1st All Ethiopian Games which I enjoyed watching including the torch lighting by Haile Gebrselassie, Tirunesh Dibaba, Meseret Defar, and Sileshi Sihin.

Obviously, the news segment on ETV is unfiltered government propaganda. However, I have found the other shows (Tea/Coffee, Q & A, Aerobics, Cooking, Sport, and even commercials) to be quite interesting. The connection is fairly stable (7 on a 1-10 scale) with the exception of minor hiccups and occasional and abrupt interruption by Jump TV. Overall, I have found it to be a good value and a step forward in my project “If I can’t go to Ethiopia, I will bring Ethiopia to me.” Last weekend ETV announced that it will carry the Cross Country Championship in Mombasa LIVE for the first time ever. Coverage begins tomorrow at 3:30PM local time which is 8:30AM Eastern Daylight Savings Time. The senior women’s race is at 9:40AM EDT and the senior men’s race is at 10:20AM EDT.

Past and Future

If you don’t follow the calendar of athletic events, let me give you a quick hint: you want to stay tuned to ROOCHA this coming Saturday. The 35th IAAF World Cross Country Championships will be held on March 24th at the Mombasa Golf Club in Mombasa, Kenya. There will be 66 nations, Ethiopia being chief among them, participating in the four races scheduled. All the big guns, including reigning champions Kennenisa Bekele and Tirunesh Dibaba, will be running for top honors. You will not want to miss this history making event!!

With the exception of the last few years, the Kenyans have practically owned cross country events, until the emergence of Kennenisa Bekele in 2002. Now that the event will be held on Kenya’s home soil, and for the first time ever in Africa, you can be sure that the Kenyans will be out to exact revenge for their past loss on neighbor Ethiopia in front of their home crowd. There is a lot at stake on Saturday as history will be made and ROOCHA will provide up to the minute coverage so be sure to stay tuned. There will also be additional commentary posted on this event, one of the biggest for the year, prior to the races on Saturday.

However, prior to that, I would like to recap some items that went uncovered here during the past month. Many notable accomplishments have taken place within the last month including a World Record run. On Saturday February 17th, Kennenisa Bekele was the star at the Norwich Union Indoor Grand Prix in Birmingham, England where he
set a World Record in the rarely contested 2000M race. The previous record was held for nine years by the great Haile Gebrselassie.

You will recall that only a week before this race in Birmingham, Kennenisa had to
withdraw from a race in Spain due to injury, so it was great to see at the Birmingham race that he was still in top form. In fact, it is quite astounding for a 10000M specialist to come down to a shorter race and set a world record. 2000M is only one lap (outdoors) more than a mile and Kennenisa’s record setting run was an indication that he has the speed of a miler together with the strength of a 10000M runner- a lethal combination and one surely noted by any of his supposed opponents. One interesting side item here is that athletes such as Kennenisa make a 10+ hour plane trip for a five minute race (the record he set was 4:49.99)

With a new world record in his back pocket, Kennenisa moved on to Stockholm, Sweden for a second world record attempt in a space of four days. This was quite ambitious, even for someone with Kennenisa’s talent. On February 21st, the race was over 3000M and the existing record was set by Daniel Komen of Kenya in 1998. Komen’s 3000M records, both indoors and outdoors, have proven to be too difficult to crack for almost 10 years now. Predictably, Kennenisa
fell short of Komen’s record by six seconds.

Incidentally, you will recall that Daniel Komen burst on the running scene in 1996 and even gave Haile a run for his money for sometime. Komen was angered by being left off the 1996 Kenyan Olympic team. He used the European circuit that followed the Olympics to vent this anger and as a result handed Haile one of his rare defeats in the late 1990’s. Komen also has the unique distinction of being the only man to EVER run 2 miles under eight minutes. This is an
amazing achievement that is quite under-reported considering that Sir Roger Bannister’s first ever sub-four minute mile is considered to be the single greatest athletic achievement in the history of sports. Komen effectively did the same on two back-to-back miles, a feat that has not been repeated!! One has to wonder why this achievement has received such little attention. Could Komen’s skin color have anything to do with it?? Anyway, Haile took the shot from Komen but still held his own while Komen quickly faded away from the running scene (not to be confused with the other Daniel Komen currently racing).

Boy, did I ever digress from my original topic… Coming back to events of last month, another piece of news that came out was the announcement of the elite field for the 111th Boston Marathon on April 16th. The great Ethiopian fans in Boston will be happy to know that five Ethiopians, three men and two women, are among the elite athletes entered for the marathon. Among the five is
Hailu Negussie, the champion in the 2005 race. Boston Marathon is another event which the Kenyan men have had strangle hold of. It will be great if one of our own wins again in Boston and give the local Ethiopians reason to celebrate again, like Tirunesh Dibaba did earlier this year. (Side tirivia- who is the only other Ethiopian man to win the Boston Marathon? Answer at the end.)

Another news item that came across in the past month was regarding Haile Gebrselassie’s plan in the marathon for 2007. Haile had a great year in 2006, except in the London Marathon, and he says he is finally getting results for his effort at this distance. Two things that make me a fan of Haile are illustrated in this
article: his confidence- “I know that it is a matter of luck and time before I break the [Marathon] World Record;” and his patriotism in representing his country – “it is tempting when a chance to represent my country [at the Osaka World Championships] comes up.” You will understand the significance of the latter statement when you realize that many elite marathoners shy away from World Championship marathon in August so that they could preserve their energy to race one of the big city marathons in the fall and earn lots of money. Go Haile go!

The Ethiopian Cross Country trials (to select team for World Cross Country in Mombasa) took place at Jan Meda on February 25th. A surprise winner was the relatively unknown
Tadesse Tola, relegating his more famous compatriots Sileshi Sihine to 3rd place, Tariku Bekele to 6th place and Abebe Dinkessa to 8th place. This goes to show how deep and strong the Ethiopian talent is this year, with great prospect for individual and team victory in Mombasa. I was delighted to learn that almost half of this year’s contingent for Mombasa are talented newcomers who will nicely complement the titans Kennenisa and Tirunesh. On the women’s side, the victor at the Jan Meda trials was the Double M – Meselech Melkamu.

Two days after the Jan Meda race, one half of the “Dueling D’s,” Meseret Defar (who is skipping out on cross country) was half way across the globe in Puerto Rico attempting the reverse of what Kennenisa has been doing in Europe. Meseret decided to try her hands (or feet) at a distance longer than her specialty of 3000M and 5000M. She decided it was time to taste herself
on the roads at a 10km race against the Kenyan-turned-Dutch Lornah Kiplagat who was the reigning champion for the previous three years. Whereas Kennenisa was trying to test his speed at shorter distances, Meseret was looking to check out her strength over a longer distance. Kiplagat won the race for the fouth consecutive year but Meseret came in second with a very good effort.

On March 17, Samuel Wanjiru of Kenya, 20, broke his own one month old Half-Marathon World Record by a huge 18 seconds at the CPC Half-Marathon in Hague, Netherlands. You will recall that Wanjiru set his previous record in early February by
bettering the time Haile recorded in January 2006 in Phoenix Arizona. I am sure Haile’s previous vow to reclaim his record remains in tact.

All the remaining recent news is regarding World Cross Country Championships in Mombasa on Saturday. As I stated at the beginning, I will do a separate piece on that topic sometime tomorrow. If you are interested, I will also point you to a source where you can watch all the cross country races live from Mombasa for a nominal fee. Stay tuned!

Q: who is the only other Ethiopian (other than 2005 champ Hailu Negussie) to win the Boston Marathon?
Abebe Mekonnen in 1989. Abebe Bikila ran in the 1963 Boston Marathon but he finished in 5th place. On the women’s side, Fatuma Roba won three consecutive years between 1997-1999.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Wintry Fall

Ok, as promised, time to catch up…

It has been rather quiet here at Roocha ever since my
Valentine Day post about streakers. Incase you are wondering, no one has accepted my invitation to make an attempt on becoming a streaker. That proposal was dead on arrival, but rest assured, I am a believer of resurrection. And it is Easter season, after all!

I can also assure you that my silence for the past couple of weeks was not due to diverted attention by my own attempt at streaking. Actually, quite the opposite. I have only managed to go out for a run only on two days after Valentine’s Day. And the reason? I will tell you in a moment, but first let me back up to Jan. 10.

My son had a doctor appointment on that day, so I left the office in mid-afternoon to head to the doctor’s office to join my wife and son on the appointment. As usual, I was running late. So, in my frantic attempt to find the correct office suite for the appointment, I walked into the wrong office and started asking for my wife and son. The receptionist politely informed me I was at the wrong place, and I was eventually able to get to where I needed to be.

At the end the visit, we came out into the hallway and started waiting for the elevator to go back downstairs. Right about the same time, the receptionist I had spoken with earlier came out of that office and jumped into the elevator we had just stepped in. We started small talk after she made a comment noticing that I was eventually able to locate my wife and son. She informed us that the office she works in is one of Orthopedists and that they had some great Orthopedists if we were ever in need of one. Of course, we expressed our gratitude for the information she provided while in my mind contemplating why I would ever need to go to an Orthopedist.

As with any other small talk, this conversation was quickly forgotten immediately after exiting the elevator, until recalling it in vivid detail on Feb. 27. And the reason? I will tell you in a moment, but first let me back up to Feb. 22.

After the Valentine Day snow/ice storm that we had, the weather remained cold and the ice remained on the grass and sidewalk for several days. The following Sunday, Feb. 18, I could not wait any longer for the ice to melt completely, so I ventured out for a morning run in the neighborhood. After all, I had to start practicing for an impending running streak. Besides, it is running on days such as that one, when everyone else skips their planned run, that I find most satisfying about running. Some of the most memorable runs I have done were completed in horrible weather conditions.

Anyway, I was able to complete my run by sharing a lane with oncoming vehicular traffic. I repeated the same exercise on Monday Feb. 19 and then again on Thursday Feb. 22.

However, on my Thursday run, after going for a mile and half of a planned three mile run, I noticed the sidewalk on the other side of the street had been cleared. So I immediately crossed the street and hopped over a pile of snow and set my right foot on the side walk…

…as I quickly gathered myself to get back up from the ice covered sidewalk, I realized that I had stepped right onto a patch of ice which had appeared to be just a wet pavement. Putting down my first step on the sidewalk while in a running motion had earned me a very rapid and hard fall on my left side. As I took stock of what I may have injured, the pain I had only felt to be from a bruised hip and elbow. I continued on with my run, passing a group of kids waiting for their school bus, and finished the planned three miles. I then got myself ready and headed to work.

By the time it was 10:30AM, the pain in my elbow had become unbearable so I decided to go to the emergency room at the hospital. After taking some X-Rays, I learned that I had
fractured my left elbow as a result of the fall- my first diagnosed running related injury ever! I left the hospital with my left hand in a sling, and my running streak over before it even started. I was told not to do any running and was referred to see a specialist in a few days.

So I promptly made an appointment to see Dr. Witte on Feb. 27 and on the day of the appointment drove to the address I was given earlier. As I started pulling into the parking lot I had a feeling of deja vu- I was back at the same place I was on Jan.10 for my son’s appointment. Looking at the appointment note, I realized that I was going back to the same floor where my son’s doctor appointment was. Wow, could this really be happening…

As I finish my visit with Dr. Witte and head to the receptionist desk to make a follow up appointment, that same lady, who only weeks before had recommended great Orthopedists, was sitting at the desk and waiting for me to hand her my papers. I had to ask her.

“Do you remember few weeks ago I wondered into your office and then…?”
“Yeah, it was in the afternoon, right?” she replied.
“Yes it was.”
“How amazing!”

Dr. Witte told me not to run for at least three more weeks. I had to do most things with just my right hand so I was not about to write a blog entry with just one hand on the keyboard, and hence the silence that followed.

I went back to see Dr. Witte last Tuesday and a follow up X-Ray showed that the elbow is 80% healed. The running ban has been lifted so long as I make sure I don’t fall on the elbow again. As I was getting ready to get back to running last Thursday, we got another round of late winter snow and ice. This time, I wisely decided to skip on the run. And that probably means that I am not cut out to be a streaker after all.

I have not given up entirely though. For now, Roocha- the blog and the sport- is back. The next attempt on streaking will not be too far behind.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Rest In Peace

So much to write about, but so little time to do it. I owe you a recap of why it has been so quiet at Roocha recently, but I had to make a quick post right now...

In the past I had written a piece about how little homage is paid to the Ethiopia's legendary runners who have brought so much recognition to the country. It appears now that some think they don't even deserve to rest in peace. Several days ago I read on one blog about the desecration of Abebe Bikila's and Mamo Wolde's statutes at their grave site. I could not tell if this was indeed true or if it was a sick joke by the writer. Now other sources are reporting this news and it appears that the unimaginable has indeed taken place.

It is little comfort that at least Abebe still has an annual award named after him here in the US and Mamo has a monument honoring him in Spain. But I must ask, have we no shame? Have we no respect, not even for the dead??