clean sweep for africa

AMMAN - African athletes swept the podiums at the World Cross Country Championships in Jordan to reinforce their credentials as seemingly untouchable talents on the global off-track distance running stage.

AMMAN - African athletes swept the podiums at the World Cross Country Championships in Jordan to reinforce their credentials as seemingly untouchable talents on the global off-track distance running stage.

Not one runner born outside Africa bothered the top 10 of the men and women's races at both senior and junior level, cementing the stereotypical view that European runners are not able to mount a serious challenge.

The statistics for cross country running are staggering: Kenya have won 262 medals and Ethiopia 222 in all events since 1973 out of a possible 900 medals on offer.

The last men's team title to have gone Europe's way was England's victory in 1980 in Paris. Portugal's women took a title in 1994, but since then Ethiopia and Kenya have swept aside all in front of them.

The last individual title to have gone to a non-African woman was to Australian Benita Johnson in 2004, with Briton Paula Radcliffe also winning in 2001 and 2002.

The last to have gone to a man was Carlos Lopes on home soil in Lisbon way back in 1985.

Results from the junior men and women's races are just as depressing, with African winners dating back 25 and 13 years respectively.

Hilda Kibet, born in Kenya but now running for the Netherlands having gone there to study physiotherapy, said the dominance of African-born athletes was down to the harsh reality of life on the continent.

"A lot of Europeans have talent," she acknowledged. "But when you live in Africa, you know running is a way out and people do their best.

"In Europe, people have a lot and running is an extra.

"In Africa, if you can run you can make it, and you can be financially stable."

But Kibe, who finished sixth in the senior women's event on Saturday, 30 seconds off Florence Kiplagat's winning pace, warned that talent itself was no substitute for hard graft and the realisation that life as a top runner was a full-time, all-consuming job.

"I was a late starter. I arrived in Holland to study for three years and then started running. I then became focused on running," she said.

"Most of the time, I train in Kenya. It's a full-time job, people should not take it as 'do a run, switch off, start again'."

Mark Kiptoo, captain of the strong Kenya team which nailed three team titles in Amman, added: "Anybody can run as long as they are committed, disciplined and have vision.

"It's not easy and it takes time. You have to give yourself three years at the least.

"You have to do the right thing, get the right instructions, the right diet and the right mentors, and eventually you'll get there."

But Saif Saaeed Shaheen, formerly Kenyan Stephen Cherono but now competing for Qatar, had a different take on why African-born runners were more successful.

"I don't think it's true," he said of the oft-repeated saying that only Africans were capable of being world beaters at cross country and distance running.

"The reason why Africans run well and successfully is because they have role models. They want to run like [Kenyan Paul] Tergat or [Ethiopian Haile] Gebreselassie.

"When [American] Jeremy Wariner won the 400m in the 2005 worlds, you saw a couple of white guys running fast afterwards." - Sapa-AFP

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