Renato Canova Thinks Both Chris Derrick and Team USA Have Realistic Shot At Medals on Saturday

Canova Also Talks About Whether Mo Farah Could Win and Gives You His Takes on The Individual And Team Races

By Robert Johnson,
March 26, 2015

GUIYANG, China — Today I spent probably close to 45 minutes talking with famed international coach and messageboard poster Renato Canova. Canova, who is the coach of Team China here at the 2015 World Cross Country Championships, talked about everything from distance running in China, to ventolin’s conversion charts, to Chris Derrick’s medal chances, Kenenisa Bekele’s future and whether doping really is necessary for the very best athletes.

Only a small portion of our talk was filmed on video as it’s more comfortable to talk to the native Italian off-camera, but I’ll share some of the highlights of our talk that pertain to Saturday’s meet below. On tonight’s radio show/podcast (9pm eastern), and next week, after the championships, I’ll go much more in-depth and share his thoughts about Bekele’s future (VERY bright, maybe even at 10,000 if he can stay healthy), doping (Canova doubled down on the assertion that EPO doesn’t help or isn’t necessary for the super elite), whether he’s surprised by Mo Farah’s domination and a whole lot more.

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In terms of World XC, here are some highlights from Canova.

Renato Canova Thinks Chris Derrick Can Contend For A Medal

Renato Canova (r) on Thursday

Renato Canova (r) talking with Mutwiri Mutuota on Thursday.

“With this type of course (likely one that is soggy as it’s been wet this week), I think that Chris can really run well. If I remember, he was always good when the course was a little a bit heavy. And is very consistent mentally.

“He’s one that is not very fast [in terms of] speed but has a [a lot of] strength and strength endurance and I think those are the main the qualities for being competitive here. I would not be surprised if Chris can run very, very close to a medal in the individual event.

“Knowing his type of mentality, I think that it is a course that is very adaptive for him.”

Click here to see what Derrick had to say when I talked to him about his chances on Saturday and asked him about Farah and Galen Rupp’s use of L-carnitine.

Canova said that if all of the best from the U.S. showed up at World XC, he thought the U.S. could possibly win gold as a team.

“If the United States put all of their best together in cross country with preparation, I’m not sure that Kenya can win. Really, the African level of cross country [has gone] down. The very best are no longer interested…

“Don’t forget that every course is always completely dry so for them running on the mud can be a problem,” said Canova who focused a lot on how he thought a lot of African runners struggled in the mud.

Canova also thinks with muddy conditions, the U.S. men’s team can get another medal. “With these conditions, I give some chance for a medal to the United States. I think they can look for a bronze medal for the men. With the women, maybe not – it depends on Uganda. It [should be] an African affair.”

After asking Canova about Derrick, I asked him about Mo Farah. If Mo Farah, who ran 59:32 last week, raced here on Saturday, would he win?

Canova thought it was unlikely unless the course was rock hard.

“Mo Farah is one that [has] total relaxation [when he races]. His type of running needs a consistent surface. Personally, I don’t think Mo Farah could be competitive if the course is mud[dy]. If the course is like four years ago, like a track, Mo Farah could win.

“Look at what happened with Haile [Gebrselassie]. Haile was never able to win in cross country even when he was very much stronger than the others at 10,000 meters. I remember South Africa – the last competition that Haile ran in 1996 in cross country – he was in front with 200 meters only [left] and he had a 30-meter gap on the Kenyan {William] Sigei and in those 200 meters Kenyan was able to catch him and [gap] him by 30 meters. After this he thought, ‘I never go to run cross again.’

“Mud is another thing – good for Chris – not so good for Mo [and some others].”

Note: Canova’s memory has gotten a little bit hazy over time or perhaps I misunderstood his broken English (you can listen to the interview where Canova talks about Haile at the bottom of this article). In 1994, Haile was in the lead in Budapest, Hungary but ended up third to William Segei. Haile was only fifth at World XC in South Africa in 1996 (winner Paul Tergat was 44 seconds ahead of him).

Below here, Canova talks about Derrick (the Haile talk is in a different clip at the bottom of this page):

In terms of Kenya versus Ethiopia, Canova is very much in the Kenyan camp and he is bullish about Leonard Barsoton’s chances

Based on personal bests, the Ethiopian men’s team is much better than the Kenyan team. That fact didn’t impress Canova at all. Canova, who now coaches Kenenisa Bekele, was at the Ethiopian trials and left far from impressed after two of the weaker members on paper of the six  Ethiopians here in Guiyang ended up going 1-2. The winner of the trials, Tamirat Tola, was someone who was training under Canova’s plan for the marathon and that concerned Canova. “I don’t think the [Ethiopian] team is very strong,” said Canova.

Canova was very much concerned that most of the Ethiopians have focused too much on speed when cross country is about strength (Side note: Canova also thinks a lack of mileage/strength has been the reason why Bekele has struggled in recent years. Canova says  as a pro, Bekele hasn’t run more than 130 kms a week (80 miles a week) which is basically an elite HS level of training. I’ll talk more about this in our podcast and more next week as well). He also was concerned that for the most part the Ethiopians were forbidden to race all year as the top guys  were wanted for a training camp prior to their World XC trials. He knows of one runner who wasn’t allowed to race way back on December 31.

Canova thinks people need a couple of races to prepare properly and thought that track work to get in shape for XC wasn’t a great idea and was very unimpressed by what he saw that the Ethiopian trials.

In terms of whom he does like, Canova thinks it will be a Kenyan that takes the individual men’s title – which is the one accolade the Africans teams most aspire for (as one Kenyan told me, the senior men’s 12k is all we remember when it’s over). He thinks Bedan Karoki is the best Kenyan on paper but doesn’t know his history on a muddy course.

Canova was very bullish on Kenyan Leonard Barsoton. Two years ago, Barsoton thrived in the mud of Poland and nearly upset Ethiopia’s Hagos Gebrhiwet, who already had a 12:47 pb at the time, in the junior race and Canova thinks he’s a rare Kenyan who enjoys the slop.

In terms of the women’s individual title, Canova said he had zero doubt that Faith Kipyegon would be the individual champ had she not become injured. Now he thinks Emily Chebet and Janet Kisa are two people to look out for.

Canova seemed to think the course will favor strength runners. He said it has a few man-made hills and he expects it to be muddy as it’s rained here this week. No one has seen the course yet – the American team hasn’t been allowed on it and they’ve been here since Monday. I’ll report back on what I learn at Friday’s course tour. I haven’t seen any rain – just mist but the Kenyan journalist I’ve been hanging out with, Mutwiri Mutuota, was freaking about even that.

Canova was very impressed, however, with the Ethiopian junior boys team.

Canova Expects The Chinese To Struggle

In terms of the chances for his Chinese teams, Canova was very honest and said his Chinese teams will struggle. He’s hoping the women’s team finishes top 10  — seventh or eighth – but was very realistic that the men would finish near the bottom, if not last.

Canova had many explanations for why a country with more than a billion people would be so bad at distance running. One is that while the population is huge, very few people run so there are few athletes to choose from. In schools, athletics isn’t a sport people focus on as is the case with badminton, table tennis and gymnastics. In terms of cross country, it isn’t even a sport in China – everything is on the track.

Additionally, Canova said a lack of suitable roads for running is a major problem. Canova said that He Yinlie, a woman whom he coaches that ran 2:27:35 in the marathon last weekend, ran her entire last long run, all 40k of it, on the track. Yes, 100 laps on the track.

Below you will see Canova talk about the Chinese and then how the Africans handle the slop (it’s a different interview than the one up top).

I spoke with Canova for roughly 10 minutes on camera and then probably 30 more off camera. The 30 additional minutes were fascinating. More on that on our podcast and next week as well.

More: LRC Self-Focused Chris Derrick Is Ready To Lead Team USA and Challenge For Individual Medal
*Complete 2015 World Cross Country Coverage