The Ethiopian Athletics Federation (EAF) this week named its provisional squad of twenty-four athletes for the 37th IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Amman, Jordan on Saturday 28 March 2009.
While the squad list is provisional with an actual starting line-up still to be decided closer to the championships it is now pretty certain that a slow recovery from a leg injury will rule out reigning men’s champion Kenenisa Bekele, while women’s champion Tirunesh Dibaba in an exclusive interview with the IAAF website has confirmed 100% she will miss Amman also due to injury.
But with the likes of 2006 short course champion Gelete Burka and two-time bronze medallist Meselech Melkamu picked by selectors, Ethiopia’s chances of taking honours remain good.
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The likely absence of Bekele, who has won twelve individual titles including a record six 12km victories, will be a massive blow to the Ethiopians as they will compete without the 26-year old in their squad for the first time in nine years.
The Olympic 5000m and 10,000m champion has not raced his November after he bruised his ankles while attempting the World 15km record at the 2008 Seven Hills road race in Njimegen, the Netherlands.
With Olympic silver medallist Sileshi Sihine also missing after failing to recover from training fatigue, Ethiopia’s hopes lie on trials winner Gebregziabher Gebremariam who won two silver medals in the 2004 edition of the championships. He will be joined by Tadesse Tola, seventh in Mombasa two years ago, Feyissa Lelisa, 14th in the junior race last year, and World Indoor 3000m champion Tariku Bekele.
Trials winner Ayele Abshiro, who finished in Edinburgh, leads the junior team this year hoping to make it better. Abshiro has already shown good form in cross country races this year with victory in Elgoibar, while beating Bekele in his failed World record attempt in Njimegen. Yetwale Kinde (21st) and Dejen Gebremeskel (18th) rejoin Abshiro in this year’s squad.
WOMEN – Genzebe takes the Dibaba name to Amman
Like Bekele, Dibaba’s absence is a major blow to Ethiopian medal hopes this year.
In an exclusive interview she has given to the IAAF website, Dibaba, who has competed in the last eight editions of the World Cross Country Championships, has confirmed that she will be out of action for two months and will only make a return to competition in the outdoor track season.
“I am not going to compete at the World Cross because of the injury,” she said. “It will be the first time in a long while that I won’t be running there, but it is for the better because I am injured at the moment.”
“After the wedding, I had gained a lot of weight and put pressure in my training in order to return back to shape,” she says. “The strain was maybe too much on my body and I started to feel pain in both legs at the beginning of January.”
Dibaba sought medical help in Germany, but was ruled out of her eagerly-anticipated 2009 debut in Boston where she was scheduled to run the 3000m.
“I skipped Boston as a precaution, but the pain started again whenever I trained,” she says. “I talked to the doctor if I should race in Birmingham and was advised not to take part in that race and also told to cancel my competition plans.”
“I think it is for the better that I am not running the World cross this year. I will miss running for my country, but I think it is better for me to recover from the injury. I know Genzebe (Dibaba) will miss me as she will have to look for a new roommate in the Ethiopian team.”
Without Tirunesh, junior champion Genzebe Dibaba will shoulder the expectation coming from the Dibaba family as she leads a strong junior team that also includes trials winner and World junior 5000m champion Sule Utura. Fifteen year-old Emebet Anteneh, who does not even have a club in Ethiopia, will compete outside Ethiopia for the first time.
The senior women’s team will be led by 2006 short course champion Gelete Burka and two-time bronze medalist Meselech Melkamu. Trials winner Wude Ayalew should also push for the medal positions after an impressive 2008/9 road and cross country season, while Sentayehu Ejigu, ninth in the 2004 Olympics 5000m race, is hoping for a comeback after spending the last two years out-and-form and injured.
Elshadai Negash for the IAAF
Provisional Squad Lists
Women’s Junior 6km: Sule Utura, Genzebe Dibaba, Emebet Anteneh, Meseret Mengistu, Tsega Gelaw, Frehiwot Goshu
Men’s Junior 8km: Ayele Abshiro; Yetwale Kinde; Dejen Gebremeskel; Atalay Yersaw; Debebe Woldesenbet; Legesse Lemiso
Women’s Senior 8km: Wude Ayalew; Meselech Melkamu; Gelete Burka; Koreni Jelila; Sentayehu Ejigu; Mamitu Deska
Men’s Senior 12km: Gebregziabher Gebremariam; Feyissa Lelisa; Tadesse Tola; Tariku Bekele; Hunegnaw Mesfin; Habtamu Fekadu