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LetsRun.com: The Week That Was
March 23-March 29, 2009 - World XC
by Robert Johnson

Instead of doing a normal Week That Was, I'll focus almost exclusively on the 2009 World Cross-Country Championships. One of the best parts about going to a meet like that is the behind-the-scenes gossip and info that one picks up from talking to people from all over the world. I hope to share some of that with you and more. Please click here to see some new post-race party photos. If you read to the bottom, you'll get to watch some post-race interviews from Ryan Gregson, Kim Smith, Julie Culley and you'll get to see proof that the world is still a male-dominated place.

More Coverage: *Results *Installment #6 - Press Conference *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 *Installment #1 about the flight and sightseeing trip to Petra click here

Photos: 
*5th Photo Gallery (The Race) *4th Photo Gallery (The Press Conference) *3rd Photo Gallery (The Course) *2nd Photo Gallery (Amman/Runners) *1st Photo Gallery (Petra)

The Country - Pretty Sweet
Jordan hosted the championships for a reason. Not because the people there love cross-country (far from it; I am basically 100% convinced that the organizing committee bused in the fans to make the venue look good as they almost all left before the senior races started and there is no way true running fans would come for the junior races only), but to get the word out that Jordan is a nice, safe country, worth visiting.

Well then, they accomplished their goal as Jordan seemed very safe; there is plenty of stuff worth seeing (Petra, Dead Sea, Aqaba and more); and it's certainly an interesting place of contrasts with totally modern, Western stuff and totally traditional, more Muslim stuff. A really nice hotel can be had for like less than $150 a night, so it's a good bargain as well (my hotel cost about $100 and it included free breakfast, while the Marriott was really, really nice and not that much more). My only real regret was going to the place thinking that it might be awkward for an American. It's clear they don't hate Americans over there. It is clear that President Bush isn't popular at all as they resent the concept of Americans thinking all the people in the Middle East and all Muslims are people that want to kill Americans. Plus, the Iraq war caused a ton of Iraqis to flee to Jordan. But at the same time, a businessman said to me, "Without America, this country would be nothing as you give us $400 million a year in aid."

Moving on to thoughts about the race.

Even without Bekele or Dibaba and some of the marathoners, the African competition at World XC is scary, scary good - Only Africans in the top 10.


The battle for the men's title. 6 in contention - all African

All four races in Amman were similar in the sense that in all four races, there were only African-born runners in the top 10. The highest non-African came in both of the junior races, as American German Fernandez was 11th in the junior boys and Australian Emily Brichacek was 11th in the junior girls. Apparently, Australia does have its match to Fernandez - it just wasn't Gregson!

In the senior races, New Zealander Kim Smith was 13th (although she did lead for 2 laps). In the senior men's race, the hightest non-African was Spain's Carles Castillejo, who was 26th. Yes, that's right - 26th. Inevitably, people will say, "well that's because a bunch of B team men show up every year as everyone realizes they have no chance to be competitive or that they can make more money running a marathon."

Not true - Castillejo is a stud. He ran 13:15 and 27:39 lat year. Australia's Collis Birmingham is in great form as he just ran 13:16 three weeks ago (March 5th) and he was 29th. Simply unbelievable.

The fact of the matter is that World XC is the most competitive race on the planet. Period. End of story.

German Fernandez ran a gutsy race on a stress reaction and should be commended for his 11th place showing, as should Chris Derrick for his 15th place showing. Derrick is a 13:44 freshman and he's only 15th. Simply unreal. The scarier thought is to realize that Fernandez wouldn't even be in Kenya's top 5. He'd be their 6th man. And that's not even counting the fact that there were several other Kenyans who were top 10 from the year before who didn't make the team this year. Third-placer Lucas Rotich didn't make the Kenyan team, nor did 7th-placer Peter Some nor 15th-placer Charles Kibet. Could it be if he lived in Kenya that US wunderkind German Fernandez would be outside of their top 10 in terms of junor XC talent? Quite possibly.

Could Any American Win The Junior Boys Race?
The fact that the junior boys are so good got me to thinking. If you lined up the best American runners, whether it's Abdi, Meb, Galen or Ryan Hall, could they have won the junior title in Amman?

I seriously doubt it. Galen Rupp beat the top American junior (Luke Puskedra) at NCAA XC by 24 seconds, or 2.4 seconds per km. In Amman, Ayele Abshero beat the top American junior by 47 seconds over 8k or 5.875 seconds per km. Admittedly, Rupp and Chelanga didn't seem to be going all-out for much of the race at NCAAs, but you get the picture.

The course was ridiculously tough, particularly the finish, and that resulted in some crazy exciting finishes.


Brutally hilly

As I stated in my pre-race report, there was very little flat on the course. I tried to take pictures of the course to give you a feel of how tough it was. I've finally found a course elevation that I have shared to the left. The final 600-650 meters were straight uphill. Imagine going 400 meters up hill at a steep 6% grade - you did that on every lap. But imagine doing that and then doing another 200 at an 8% grade before makming a 90 degree turn and sprinting all out for 100 meters to the finish. Julie Culley summed it up best by saying, "The last 200 meters was the steepest hill I've ever run."

The ridiculously hard finish played a big factor as in 3 of the 4 races (everyone but the junior boys and I'm not 100% certain it didn't happen there either), the person in the lead going up the final hill didn't win. The senior men's race featured 6 guys in contention with 300 meters to go. An unbelievably exciting finish. The biggest reversal of fortunes however, came in the senior women's race. With roughty 200 to go, it looked like Linet Masai was going to be the easy winner as she probably had a 3 second lead on her compatriot Florence Kiplagat as shown by the picture below and to the right. In the end, Kiplagat ended up a 3-second winner.


Masai about to be walked down

More Casualties Of The Course

It's clear to me that the course did in New Zealand's Kim Smith. During the indoor campaign, Smith became the fastest non-Ethiopian in history at the indoor 5k. In Amman, she gave everyone hoping for a non-African surprise a big thrill as she led for about 2 laps before finishing 13th. Even given the fact that there is more competition at World XC than the Olympics, there is no way Smith was only in the 11th best form heading into the race. The course clearly didn't suit her.

During her jog of the course on Friday, she told us the course was going to be brutal and it was. It was her first cross-country race in four years and clearly the hilly nature of it didn't suit her well. After the race, Smith seemed a bit shell shocked by the whole thing and wouldn't commit to doing World Cross again any time soon. "It wasn't really my kind of course. That was defiitely the hardest cross-country course I've ever run on," said Smith.

Considering the training for World XC got her in unreal 5k shape, I hope she does do it again soon as she very well could get up there on the podium. Remember, it was only 5 years ago that Benita Johnson got the win. Thankfully, Smith did agree that if the race is in Australia, she will compete.

At the post-race banquet, I learned that the course caused some serious foot problems for Americans Bobby Curtis and Ed Moran. Moran told me he thought he must have bruised his foot by stepping on a rock as one of his metatarsals was totally bruised. Curtis had horrific blisters. US men's team coach Jim Nichols said he was pretty surprised they were able to finish the race. Not a surprsie really when you think they had to run six times down a hard downhill which included one totally sharp left-hand turn.

The Future Of World XC? My Proposal - Move The Date Up
There was a lot of discussion at the IAAF press conference about the future of World XC. It certainly is a problem that there is little Western interest for the television rights to the meet considering the race is dominated by Africans and many times not the biggest name Africans. Clearly, it would really help if more big names (both African and Western) showed up. How can that become a reality? Here are my quick thoughts:

1) Change the date to late January or mid-February. If you had the race 6 weeks earlier in mid-February, it's 5 months after the mid-August end of the track season. That's plenty of time for an elite runner to take some time off and build up again. It's also early enough that people who were formerly track runners but hoping to make their marathon debuts in the spring could run World XC and then have 2 months to get ready to run 26.2.

2) Have the trials for world xc 2 weeks before the race. It's somewhat embarrasing that more of the US runners who did well in the US Trials didn't show up in Amman (German Fernandez should be given major, major props for skipping NCAAs and running on a stress reaction. The guy clearly wants to run in the world's most competitive race and represent his country). How could the turnout be improved?

The idea of moving up the date for World XC would really, really help on that front as there would be no excuse for not going to Worlds anymore. Those that were able to run Gate River or the US 8km a few weeks after the US trials without messing up their precious track seasons would now clearly be able to run Worlds.

But another way to get more people to run Worlds would be to simply put the Trials two or three weeks prior to Worlds. That way, people who qualified for the team would think "Well, I've already gotten in good XC shape and Worlds are only in 2 weeks, so I'm going to go race."

3) Possibly make the championship bi-annual. This is a radical proposal and I'm not sure I'm fully for it but you could alternate World Indoors and World XC. Make each one truly grand with all the big stars.

The Kenyan Camp System Is Broken
As a coach, I'm sure I'm biased, but I've always thought the concept of the Kenyans having a big camp 5-weeks prior to World XC and the Olympics/World Champs is ludicrous. You train with your own coach all year and then before the biggest race of the year, you train under someone else and train with some of the best runners on the planet. Hence you are almost bound to overtrain.

The fact of the matter is that the camp certainly didn't help the Kenyan men. Here are the facts.

Moses Mosop made a mockery of their senior men's trials as he won by a ridiculous 21 seconds and many, including LRC, thought he was the favorite for Worlds. Where did he finish? 4th for Kenya and 11th overall (Although his 11th place finish ended up giving Kenya the team title in a tie-breaker over Ethiopia).

What is wrong with the Kenyan system?

There is too much time between the Kenyan Trials and World XC and the runners seemingly hammer themselves into the ground.
The Kenyan team is insansely difficult to make. The Kenyan trials are thought by many to be more difficult than World XC itself. As a result, the people have to be in supreme shape to make the team. World XC was 5 weeks later. It's hard enough to maintain that type of sharpness for 5 weeks to begin with. Even harder still if you are in a camp with 5 other studs with a new coach who is trying to "make his mark" and probably overtraining you.

The camps seem to help those who were out of shape but kill those who were already in shape. In addition to Mosop's failure, the same thing happened on the junior men's side. The Trials winner, John Cheruyiot, only finished 10th in Amman. Meanwhile, who was the top junior boy for Kenya? Titus Mbishei got the silver and he was only 5th in the Kenyan Trials. Who was the top senior man? 4th placer Leonard Komon, who was only 20th in the Kenyan Trials and given a wild card. Thus, those who were in great shape at the Trials were run-down and out of form by the time Worlds came around, given the 5 weeks of intense training.

If I was in charge in Kenya, I'd hold the Kenyan Trials two or three weeks prior to the World Cross-Country. Admittedly, there may be logistical problems with picking the team that late (maybe the IAAF needs the names before then) but in my mind, Kenya should hold their trials, then simply rest up for a week, travel to the meet and race.  No camp is necessary. Ah, but then the bureaucrats would realize their job isn't all that important to begin with.

The fact of the matter is I'm not the only one that thinks the camp concept is a bad one. An agent told me at Worlds that Noah Ngeny, the 2000 Olympic champ in the 1,500, was kicked off the Kenyan squad for the 2001 Worlds because he refused to go to the camp (Note: I didn't have time to verify this but I can certainly see it happening). Some bureaucrat is trying to justify his job with a camp. Meanwhile, the Olympic champ feels like he knows how to best prepare himself.

Africans Are Real People With Great Stories Too - The Unbelievable Moses Kipsiro


Silver is very good considering
I missed two weeks the last month

If you don't believe the Kenyan system is messed up, take agent Ricky Simms' word on it. In addition to being Usain Bolt's agent, the guy also is an agent and coach for a ton of top-notch distance stars. He told me that there is no way that his protege Moses Kipsiroof Uganda would have made the Kenyan team 5 weeks ago.

What happened in Amman? He won the silver.

Kipsiro is an amazing talent. Simms told me that Kipsiro had had very erratic training the last few weeks as he'd had some health problems that caused him to drop back at the World's Best 10k but somehow still managed silver. But overcoming obstacles is nothing knew to Kipsiro. Last year, Simms said he basically missed all of July in terms of workouts due to an injury. What happened? Well, the 12:50 guy went to Beijing and got into the final. The morning of the final he called Simms up and said "Get me a flight home." Simms was like, "What are you talking about? The Olympic final is today." Kipsiro said he couldn't run as he was sick. Simms went and saw him said he had a rash on one side of his body and looked awful, sweating profusely. He told Kipsiro, "Look, you've got to give it a try. Let's go to the track." At the practice track, Kipsiro felt so bad he wouldn't warm up. Simms told him, "You've got to at least try. This is the Olympic final. Put on your spikes and run three laps. If you feel bad then, drop out."

Apparently, if you watch the tape of the 2008 Olympic 5k final, Kipsiro does exactly this. He runs in the back for three laps, moves out and contemplates how he's feeling. Ends up deciding to give it a go and finishes 4th. So here you have a guy that misses a month of training, wakes up dead sick on the day of the Olympic final and still gets 4th in the world. Unbelievable.

Remember When Ritz Won In Belfast? The Race Was Handicapped
Another interesting story that I heard in Amman regarded Dathan Ritzenhein. Remember when he got the big win the international XC race in Beflast in 2005? It certainly was a big-time shocker at the time and huge career highlight for Ritz. Well, in hindsight the victory may have not been so great. A very well-connected person said that the Kenyans in the race had been told to "hold back at the start" to make it look interesting for television.

The Kenyans did as they were told, chilled at the start, Ritz got a big lead, and in the end, they spotted him too much ground and couldn't catch him. Clearly, they probably didn't try to purposely lose the race, but Ritz likely wouldn't have been close to winning had they been going all out.

Don't believe me? Well this description of the race certainly supports what I was told by a very well-connected source. In the IAAF recap of the race, Ritz himself says, "we were going so slowly early on."

Pumping Up Ryan Gregson
Gregson Comments On The Re-Design
Gregson Issues A Challenge To Fernandez


Team USA + Kim Smith

Since LetsRun.com has spent the better part of a month doing our best to get everyone excited about German Fernandez (and apparently done an amazing job at it as we've even got the world record holder in the steeplechase, Stephen Cherono, excited about German), we received a new directive from our corporate offices (aka Wejo) that it's time to move on and pump up Australia's teenage phenom - Ryan Gregson.

The problem with this plan was that I had no idea what Gregson looked like. A few hours prior to the start of the race on Saturday, I saw an Aussie pop out of the port-o-john. The kid had some nice bling on his ear and I knew Gregson had an earring, so I asked if he was Ryan Gregson. I was met with an affirmative response and then we started talking.

Mission accomplished for the trip - meet Ryan Gregson. I mean, if you aren't going to meet interersting people, what's the point of going halfway across the globe? So Gregson and I started talking and after a few minutes, mid-sentence he says, "Oh yeah, by the way I like the re-design." So there you have it. It's official - the redesign stays.

Since he had a race to run, I let him be and went to the fans' entrance to see what was going on. I saw a white guy coming in and figured he had to be the father of an athlete. I asked, "You must be someone's dad. Are you?" Sure enough, I was right but I was wrong about the nationality. It was Steve Gregson, Ryan's father. We then watched the two junior races together. That's why my photos from the 1st two races aren't as good as the last two - I was trying to be too social.

Anyway, after the race, I got a post-race interview with Gregson which appears below along with some interviews with Kim Smith and Julie Culley. Plus a pre-race interview with Brett Gotcher which never got put up. Good news - Gregson is coming to the States to run the 1,200 at Penn Relays.


Friends or Foes?

But then the highlight of the week. The post-race party thrown by his Royal Highness. The keys to the post-race party were 1) Having an invitation and 2) Making friends with a big shot like a former world record holder so when you wanted something, you got it. "I'm sorry sir, the bar is closed." Apparently that doesn't apply if you walk up with a world record holder.

But the highlight of the post-race party was the photo of 2009. Gregson and Fernandez together. See for yourself in our photo album.

Now, don't be fooled; the photo may look friendly but Gregson issued a stern challenge to Fernandez. He wants them to race at the 2010 Prefontaine mile before they go their different ways (Fernandez up to the 5k/10k). Not sure how that will work with Fernandez's NCAA schedule but we'd love to see it!!!



Exclusive Post Race Interviews Below + Please click here to see some new post-race party photos.


 

Ryan Gregson's Post-Worlds Comments
 
"Top 25. I'm pleased, I think the depth every year is getting stronger and stronger ... I wasn't far behind Derrick and he's been running great over 5k."

Julie Culley's Post-Worlds Comments

"I'm very happy ... I liked the course as it played to my strengths. It's a grinder's course and it went well."


 

Kim Smith's Post-Worlds Comments
 
"I was going for a medal ... It wasn't really my kind of course. That was defiitely the hardest cross-country course I've ever run on ... Cross-country is painful."

Ethiopians Celebrating Sr. Men's Individual Title

Proof positive that the world is still male-dominated.

 


 

  

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