37th World Cross-Country Championships

The 2009 IAAF World Cross-Country Championships were held yesterday in, of all places, Amman, Jordan. There are four races in this extravaganza–men’s and women’s senior races (12K and 8K respectively) for those who will be 20 or older by the end of the calendar year, and men’s and women’s junior races (8K and 6K respectively) for everyone else.
As usual, the races constituted an unfettered display of African dominance. In the men’s senior race, the top 25 finishers all hailed from African nations. Kenya edged Ethiopia for the team title; each squad scored 28 points, but Kenya’s fourth and final scoring runner was 11th, one spot ahead of Ethiopia’s fourth man. The overall winner was Ethiopia’s Gebre-egziabher Gebremariam, who at age 17 was the 2002 titlist in the junior race. Don’t expect him to become a household name. The U.S. was 8th of 19 teams, with Iraq fielding a squad and pulling up the rear. Iraqis don’t enjoy the best of training conditions.

The U.S. teams in the women’s races and the men’s junior race each took fifth, a creditable if not spectacular showing. American phenom German Fernandez, an Oklahoma State University freshman who broke a longstanding U.S. high-school two-mile record last spring (8:34) and notched a stellar 3:55 indoor mile this past season, was 11th in the junior race, easily the best showing by an American in any of the races.
In 1992 I had the chance to watch the World Champs when they were held in Boston’s Franklin Park. The races were held in a light snow, and I’ll never forget the sight of numerous African runners slamming along barefoot, some with their toes taped together. This was at in the tail end of five-time world champion John Ngugi’s dominance of the sport, and I recall watching him come around a corner behind a careening golf cart, gobble up eighty yards of turf in an improbably small number of strides, and disappear around another bend. In full flight, Ngugi looked like a man on lots of painkillers doing lunging drills in spite of a back problem, but man, did he get the job done.
The winner of the women’s junior race that year? A budding talent named Paula Radcliffe, who has since become the greatest pure marathoner in history.

One thought on “37th World Cross-Country Championships”

  1. This makes me wish I could bring back the days I’d slog out a 12-miler on the hills and thoroughly enjoyed it. (I’m not saying I found them easy.) Or maybe I need a shot of whisky to forget all about it again!
    Reading that they have junior race makes me wonder why there is no Master’s race (40+).
    BTW: your “post” button opens a new window. Is this intended? It does have the effect of preserving the comment in the original window, but it’s unexpected to me!

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