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LetsRun.com Goes To Amman - 2009 World Cross-Country Coverage
Installment #6: The Press Conference & German Fernandez's Injury

March 27, 2009
By Robert Johnson
(Rojo would like to apologize for not reading the LRC message boards. Apparently they are more accurate than his own senses, as he sat near German Fernandez at dinner and didn't pick up anything about his injury. And no, he didn't read Runnersworld either. The Internet is very slow here and he's been up to 4:00 am two nights working to provide you coverage)
Highly Recommended Photos: The Press Conference *MB Thread On Fernandez

The press conference was pretty darn interesting. The big-shot bureaucrats, including a Prince, spoke first. When they asked His Royal Highness what his goal was for the visitors to go home and spread the word that Jordan is a "safe and secure destination" and have "wonderful memories to take home from Jordan." "Hopefully you will see that it is not what you see all the time about the Middle East on TV."

German's new headband?

I've got to agree with the Prince 100%. This place is fascinating and it seems very safe. I'd recommend it to anyone. No reason to fear this oasis in the Middle East.

The head of the IAAF, Liame Diack, said he was pleased that the number of countries participating is up as one of his "dreams is to universalize the sport of athletics." However, the other IAAF guy, Pierre Weiss, admitted that world cross-country is struggling as there is very little television interest in it because it's dominated by Africans and many of the top stars skip the meet. It was clear the IAAF was trying to hype the non-African stars in Fernandez and Twell (not sure why they didn't do Kim Smith as well) and wants the top runners to come.

Pierre Weiss summed it up perfectly: "It is true that cross-country is facing a difficult period."

But we'll leave that to another day. The athletes were eventually brought up on stage and they included former short course champion Gelete Burka, European champion Hilda Kibet, Kenyan captain Mark Kiptoo, the world record holder in the steeple Stephen Cherono (they called him Stephen at the race even though his real name is now Saif Shaheen), US junior star German Fernandez and British hope Stephanie Twell. (When Fernandez walked in, I noticed he was wearing a boot on his right foot but few other people seemed to notice it. I talked to a lot of journalists after it was all over and they never saw it. More on that below).

The IAAF's Chris Turner introduced the athletes and he introduced German Fernandez as the "sensation of the indoor season and I don't say that lightly." Certainly a big honor for the 19-year-old to get that type of intro and to be on the stage with such greats.

We know everyone wants to hear what Fernandez had to say but we'll first point out a few other things said by some of the other athletes.

Twell: "Top 20 would be good, but I'd like to keep where I really want to finish precious to me."

Fernandez & His Boot

Kibet: "(The course is) very tough. it's very hilly but I'm in good form and very well prepared."

Cherono: Cherono revealed that there has been nothing wrong with him in his training. Big rumors were flying around that he was hurt once again as he dropped out of the Kenyan trials, but he said he pulled out as a precaution as the footing wasn't great and he didn't want to take any chances having missed the last few years due to injury. He also said that he had learned from the mistakes he made in 2005 when he was in the top 10 in both the long and short races but didn't medal. He thought he moved too soon those years and had focused too much on his speed. So this year he's focused totally on his endurance. He said his speed is very "low" right now but his "endurance is very good." He also said that the Qatar team which got the bronze last year without him is in even better form this year. If that's the case, they might be able to take silver from Ethiopia.

Since a big portion of the press conference was devoted to the health of World XC and making it more appealing to television networks (having more stars show up or having more non-African born stars), the athletes also all spoke at great length as to whether they thought it was possible for non-Africans to compete at the top level. The conversation was fascinating but we'll save it for a later date and a column all to itself as it's really a timeless topic.

Fernandez Shines
German Fernandez naturally seemed a little nervous at first but really warmed up by the end of the press conference and came across as a TOTAL class act. In a day and age when so many people are focused on making money in running or running some obscure 5k in front of 20 fans, it was refreshing to see someone who really, really, really wants to do everything he can to represent his country in fine fashion.

Digits? Or Autograph?

German was asked at the start of the press conference about his goals for the race. He immediately made it clear that his #1 focus is on being to help the US boys get a junior gold medal, which is very possible given the powerful top 3 punch of Luke Puskedra, Chris Derrick and German. "Individually I want to be top 15 but right now with my leg that's up in the air."

That comment about his leg led to a discussion on his injury, which was revealed to be a stress reaction in his right foot that came on after Big 12s. Near the end of the press conference, I asked German if he ever thought about not coming to this meet after getting news of the stress reaction. He ended the press conference with his finest statements as he firmly said,

"I took four days off - two days off. I skipped a couple of workouts and wasn't feeling sharp and I told Dave, 'I feel guilty. I'm injured and if I go to Jordan and don't get to run another person could have took my spot.' But I just decided to try to come and try my best.

I can run with pain. I'm just here to run to the best of my ability and help out the team and compete with the best runners in the world and hopefully I can come up with a good race, but I'll be fine, after this I'll probably take a month off as I said."

Lots of excerpts from the press conference appear below. Or you can watch it by playing the video which appears at the bottom.

Oh yeah, before we give you the excerpts, we wanted to tell you a few funny parts about the press conference. Chris Turner also said at one point, "If anybody was to surf on the Internet for German's name, they'd probably already think you were the Olympic champion already given the amount of coverage. One, that must be very encouraging but two, does that put a lot of pressure as someone as young as yourself?"

Fernandez said it's encouraging but then went on to say the following statement: "Overall, I just never go on the Internet and try to focus on my running."

The horror!! The horror!!

LRC Visitor & World Record Holder

That may have gotten me down but I was walking out of the building about 15 minutes after the press conference was over, I happened to be next to the world record holder in the steeplechase, Stephen Cherono (aka Saif Shaheen). I was walking three abreast with Shaheen on the left, his friend in the middle and me on the right. I heard Shaheen say, "German Fernandez, LetsRun.com, German Fernandez, LetsRun.com."

When I heard LetsRun.com, I turned to him as I thought he knew who I was or something and I said something like, "Hey, you know that's my website, right what were you saying about it?" Well he didn't recognize me but he does come to the site.

He then went on to ask me, "Was that really German Fernandez?" I was a bit confused as he had sat next to Fernandez at the press conference and they had exchanged what looked like contact info after it was over. But I guess the Kenyan team leader Mark Kiptoo did talk about his whole team so maybe it was possible he thought Fernandez was the team captain. Anyway, I told him, "Yeah that was definitely him. Why do you seem so surprised?" He said, "Oh I thought he'd be much bigger (as he said this, he pointed really tall - like 6'5"). 3:56, that's not easy to do."

So there you have it. The world record holder is into the LRC-induced Fernandez hype and is impressed by him.

German on his goals for the race: "My main goal is not individually but as a team. I want to be on the podium - top 3. Individually I want to be top 15 but right now with my leg that's up in the air. I just want to help the team and help bring a medal back home."

You've got have a slight leg injury? "I have a stress reaction on my foot and have been running in pain for the last two week. Probably after this race, I'm going to take a month off."

German on who inspired him to start running: "Ryan Hall. He made me think, 'Maybe running is something I should be doing.' Fernandez also revealed that he ran a 4:21 mile his freshman year with no training. "I pretty much did the right thing and believe that I can do something great in the US and maybe start a new legacy and tell everyone that if you believe in yourself you can do anything in your life."

German on competing with the Africans: "I think it's very possible (to compete with the Africans). You have to bring your A game."

German on his come-from-behind strategy at NCAAs: "I was feeling really good. Me and John Kosgei were like 20 seconds away from the lead group. We just started moving and we closed pretty hard and caught the lead group and I was telling Kosgei , 'I'm going to try to go after Rupp and Chelanga and try my best,' and right when I made my move my Achilles gave out ... I was just in tremendous pain and thought I left my team down and everyone down as people were expecting a lot from me."

German on whether he ever thought about not running in this race: "The problem I had started two weeks ago after big 12s. My foot started feeling really sore. I was just tired and kept running on it - doing workouts and still handling 90 (or did he say 80?) miles per week and it was not getting better so I told Dave, 'we need to take an MRI as soon as possible because I'm running in pain and it's throwing me off.' The doctor came back and said nothing is wrong with me and I said, 'Dave something is wrong with me, check again.' An hour later, he tells me I have a stress reaction in my foot.

I took four days off - two days off. I skipped a couple of workouts and wasn't feeling sharp and I told Dave, 'I feel guilty. I'm injured and if I go to Jordan and don't get to run another person could have took my spot.' But I just decided to try to come and try my best.

I can run with pain. I'm just here to run to the best of my ability and help out the team and compete with the best runners in the world and hopefully I can come up with a good race, but I'll be fine, after this I'll probably take a month off as I said."

Highly Recommended Photos: The Press Conference

I also got the chanced to interview Brett Gotcher and Neely Spence while we were at the course. Spence is the only one uploaded right now and it appears below.


*Installment # 5- The Course *
Installment #4 - Amman. *Installment #3 - about the US team and German's possible injury, Amman and to see exclusive interviews with Julie Culley, Bobby Curtis and Ed Moran *Installment #2 where I tried to analyze the junior boys race *Iinstallment #1 about the flight and sightseeing trip to Petra click here

Photos: *4th Photo Gallery (The Press Conference) *3rd Photo Gallery (The Course) *2nd Photo Gallery (Amman/Runners) *1st Photo Gallery (Petra)

German Fernandez Press Conference
This is really 3 interviews combined together as it's very hard to upload video here.

The first 2:43 is German's opening statement.

From 2:43 to 3:53 German responds to a question about whether he had any idols in the sport growing up as Stephen Cherono had just said he thought the key to African success was that they had role models in the sport. The response was also in relation to a question as to whether non-Africans can ever truly compete.

From 3:53 to 4:47, German responds to LetsRun.com's question about his race tactics and whether he would still go out even paced like he did at NCAAs.

The final part of the interview German talks about his injury and whether he ever considered not running this meet.

Neely Spence - Pre-Race

US junior champ Neely Spence talks about her first race for the USA and her recent indoor campaign - which coincidentally was her first indoor season.



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