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2005 World Half Marathon PreRace Press Conference Highlights: Cliches by the Athletes, Some Substance by the IAAF Execs
by: Weldon Johnson, LetsRun.com
September 30, 2005

Friday at the World Half Marathon Champs was the pre-race press conference. The press conference was in two parts. First up, were the IAAF executives (Nick Davies, the IAAF Communications director; Amadeo Francis, the IAAF VP; Istvan Gyulai, the IAAF General Secretary; plus a few Canadian officials). Second up were the athletes, heavy men's favorite (3 times Olympic and World Champs silver medallist at 10k on the track) Sileshi Sihine (picked by 58.2% of LetsRun.com viewers with no one else getting more 12%); 2 time Olympic, 1 time World 10k Gold Medallist Derartu Tulu; and the always strong Lornah Kiplagat of the Netherlands via Kenya.

The athletes part of the press conference as expected was not too exciting as most of their answers were clichés the day before the battle. On the women's side Tulu, Kiplagat, Susan Chepkemei of Kenya, and perhaps Constantina Tomescu of Romania on paper appear to be way better than the rest of the competition, so much of the discussion centered on whether Tulu and Kiplagat would try and push the pace for a fast time on this very flat loop course. Kiplagat and Tulu both said they were here to win whatever way possible. With chilly weather and rain expected do not expect a hot early pace.

On the men's side Sihine is the heavy favorite despite never having run a half marathon before. But his track credentials are incredible and if there ever was a course for a half marathon debut this is it, as it is a flat loop course. The word on the street is that the local organizing committee wanted to design a course that highlighted the city of Edmonton (which could be very hilly as the city is above a river bank) but the IAAF shot down that idea instead opting for a faster course. Thankfully, the IAAF is not in charge of planning the New York City Marathon course.  For more athlete quotes from the press conference click here.

Believe it or not the most interesting part of the press conference was the IAAF executives. First up, Mr. Gyulai was asked about Bernard Lagat now of the USA suing the IAAF over his EPO positive "A" sample getting leaked to the public. Ultimately, Lagat's "B" sample came back negative and Lagat was able to compete. In the meantime, however, the Kenyan Federation pulled him from the 2003 World Champs for fear of his results getting nullified if ultimately his "B" sample came back positive, Lagat missed some other key meets at the end of the 2003 season, and no doubt his reputation was damaged by the news of his "A" positive even if his "B" sample ultimately came back negative.

Mr. Gyulai's main point was that he did not see why the IAAF should be sued in the matter for all it did was notify the Kenyan Federation of Lagat's positive test as it is supposed to do according to protocol. It was the Kenyan Federation that leaked the news of Lagat's positive to the press, and who decided to pull Lagat from the World Champs according to Mr. Gyulai. Therefore the implication was Lagat's lawsuit if with anyone should be with the Kenyan Federation (but as many have pointed out the Kenyan Federation is cash strapped). For more on the Lagat story and Mr. Gyulai's comments you can read a British recount here.

Mr. Gyulai somewhat surprisingly admitted not all is well with the state of athletics in the World and the US. This event, the last edition of the World Half Marathon Champs, is only being televised in Europe, S. Africa, and China (you've got to love communism, the Chinese are broadcasting the event despite not sending a team). The World Half Marathon champs never really caught on with the public at large and Mr. Gyulai acknowledged that "This event is a little sick and needs a little care to claim 'yes we are an IAAF world championships'... Road running is a very essential part of athletics... We will not let this event die." For more on Gyulai's comments read this Canadian Press article..

Starting next year in Hungary instead of a World Half Marathon Championships, there will be a World Road Running Championships whose distance will be determined in consultation with the local organizers and the IAAF. Next year's race is a 20k.

Mr. Gyulai in response to a question from yours truly also admitted that the state of television coverage of world wide athletics in the United States is pretty bad. We'll cover this part of his statements in depth next week, but it was somewhat refreshing and surprising for Mr. Gyulai to admit that they "were disappointed" with the ratings in the US for the television coverage of the World Track and Field Champs. Last month, the IAAF in typical corporate fashion had released a statement talking about the "unprecedented US coverage". The statement said "Provisional ratings received for the daily one hour highlights programme shown on PAX TV across the country are approximately double those of the 2003 World Championships coverage." As I said, we'll have more on this next week, but the previous statement if flat out false. But the first step in recovery is said to be admission of guilt, so hopefully the US will climb out of the abyss to restore track and field to where it deserves to be in the public consciousness.

Picks: I guess I have to make my picks for the race: Thankfully I found one other person who is really intrigued by US Road Star Gilbert Okari, race photographer, Victor Sailer. But I can't let my heart get in the way of my (small) brain (so I'll pick him second):
1) Sileshi Sihine 2) Gilbert Okari 3) Nicholas Kemboi

Women: 1) Derartu Tulu 2) Lornah Kiplagat 3) Susan Chepkemei

Pre Race Favorite Sileshi Sihine
Double Olympic 10k Champ Derartu Tulu
Derartu Tulu and The Ethiopian Translator
Derartu Tulu and The Ethiopian Translator
Lornah Kiplagat
Tulu Sharing a Laugh
Sihine Hoping to Finally Get Gold
P1010115.JPG P1010117.JPG
Kiplagat is the Only Person on the Netherlands Team

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