March 25, 2017
KAMPALA, Uganda — The pre-race press conference for the 42nd IAAF World Cross Country Championships that will take place tomorrow at the Kololo Independence Grounds was held today at the Sheraton hotel. The featured guests included IAAF President Seb Coe, Olympic champions Asbel Kiprop and Faith Kipyegon of Kenya and Stephen Kiprotich of Uganda, five-time World Cross Country champion Paul Tergat and North American champ Sasha Gollish of Canada.
We give you the highlights of the presser below.
Seb Coe calls 2017 a “Year of Innovation”
IAAF head Seb Coe spoke at the start of the press conference and started off by talking about the importance of cross country. He said that while he “was never the world’s greatest cross country runner” he came up in an era when cross country was viewed as being an “integral” part of the developmental process for mid-d runners and noted the presence of Olympic 1500 champions Faith Kipyegon and Asbel Kiprop sitting near him on stage. Clearly, they both believe in xc and it hasn’t hurt them. He said he also hopes coaches today start to stress the importance of cross country for another reason – that it “actually brings running communities together.”
In terms of IAAF business, Coe called 2015 the year of elections and called 2016 a challenging year and said 2017 is his year of “innovation.” He cited the bold changes tried at the Nitro Athletics events in Australia earlier in the year as a good thing. He thought the event featured “a format which provided some major clues” as to how to excite youth and get them into athletics. Along those lines, he’s proud the IAAF is trying the new 4 x 2k mixed gender relay here for the first time and Coe reminded everyone that “nothing stays still” and the sport must continue to try to innovate.
When asked about the fact that there are hardly any Europeans entered in the championships and that Great Britain has already forfeited in the senior men’s competition by entering zero people, Coe responded at first by focusing on the positive.
“This is the largest gathering at a World Cross Country Championships since 2006 in terms of athletes and countries. That’s a good thing,” said Coe (though with the addition of the relay as an extra race, it’s not exactly an apples-to-apples comparison).
When asked if the IAAF could perhaps punish or incentivize federations to enter teams in cross country (by perhaps withholding spots at Worlds if they don’t run xc), Coe said that nothing can be ruled out in helping our sport grow. He wants athletics to be viewed as a 12-month sport.
“I think far too many athletes hide themselves away from competition for parts of the year,” said Coe. “We’re looking at things in a very, very different way. When it comes to getting athletes out in competition as much as we possibly can, I don’t think we can rule anything out or anything in. I think it’s really important that we’re seen as a 12-month sport…We have to look at what works for federations and what works individually for athletes.”
Coe admitted that to grow cross country it’s going to take more than just convincing coaches it’s important.
“[It’s] important that we have a dialogue with the managers as well – [they] have a big responsibility and have influence over their athletes’ careers,” added Coe.
One agent we spoke to agreed. He said one problem is that the shoe companies used to include big bonuses for a world xc title but now that’s a thing of the past. Also, he said a medal at a world xc champs used to really help one get an appearance fee at the Diamond League meeting but now those appearance fees are also largely a thing of the past for all athletes.
Coe said down the road he’d love to see a track world championships come to Africa.
“I’m also very keen to see a world athletics championships come to Africa. The history of our sport over the last 20 years is largely a story of (the rise of) African athletics.”
The AP and Reuters reporters also asked Coe a lot about Russian doping and the IOC corruption allegations against sprinting legend Frankie Fredericks. His responses along those lines were pretty much what you’d expect (he’s letting the IAAF ethics commission process play out with Fredericks) and we’ll link to their articles once they are published.
(Video of speech and some Q&A at bottom of article)
Olympic 1500 champ Faith Kipyegon, who won back to back junior titles, called cross country her favorite sport
The United States’ middle distance stars like Matthew Centrowitz and Jenny Simpson may not be big fans of cross country, but Olympic 1500 champ Faith Kipyegon certainly is a huge fan.
“I like to think that cross country is my favorite running (event),” said Kipyegon who has an amazing track record of succss in cross country having won world junior titles in 2011 and 2013, plus an African junior title in 2012 and an African senior title here in Kampala in 2014. “It’s my buildup to track and I really like it and I’m happy to be in Kampala again,” added Kipyegon who missed the 2015 World Cross Championships with injury after winning the Kenya Trials that year (she was 3rd this year).
When asked about the prospects of Kenya’s women’s team which is basically a ‘Dream Team’ because it’s so loaded with talent, Kipyegon was upbeat. “I think we are training well and I think we are going to do well here in Uganda. I think we are going to do it, we are strong.”
One thing that might hurt Kipyegon’s individual chances is that the IAAF is leading the way in terms of gender equity. In tennis, women may still only play best-of-three sets (vs. best-of-five for men), but at these championships the men and women will both run the same distance – 10k – as the women’s event has been bumped up 2k (from 8k to 10k) and the men’s down 2k (from 12k to 10k).
2012 Olympic marathon champ Stephen Kiprotich is thrilled to be competing at home and warns his younger competitors not to screw around – “I’m an older guy now but if they play around, I take the lead.”
“Personally I’m very happy for the world to come to my country and we have a great opportunity to host the race. The course is very nice, the course is very good. The course is perfect,” said the 27-year-old Kiprotich who was 6th at the 2011 championships.
After the main press event, in an exclusive one-on-one interview with Kiprotich, we asked him if he thought Uganda’s 20-year-old Joshua Cheptegei (6th Olympic 10k, 2014 World Junior 10k champ) was their best bet for individual glory given the fact that Cheptegei is young and has been running great of late (he won the Ugandan trials by 22 seconds). Kiprotich said yes and said that he definitely views Cheptegei as a medal contender.
When we asked Kiprotich about his medal own medal prospects, he replied with an all-time great response, “I’m an older guy now but if they play around, I take the lead.”
Asbel Kiprop, who won the World Jr title 10 years ago when the championships were last held in Africa, said the introduction of the 4 x 2k relay brought him back to the sport
“I think what brought me back into xc running…when the IAAF introduced the relays, I thought this was the best chance for me as a middle distance athlete to race.”
“It’s gonna be interesting because anyone can take it (any leg of the relay – so Kiprop might be racing women). Honestly I think it’s a new experience and hopefully it’s going to be much interesting,” said Kiprop who added he was thrilled the world was “coming to East Africa.”
5-Time World XC Champ Paul Tergat is thrilled to be here as the IAAF’s Ambassador to the World Champs – “Cross country is in my veins. It runs through me.”
Tergat, who traveled to other parts of Uganda earlier this year as part of his work as the IAAF’s ambassador for these champs, clearly was very happy to be at a world cross country championships even if it is only as a spectator.
“Cross country is in my veins. It runs through me,” said the 47-year-old Tergat who won 5 straight world xc titles from 1995 to 1999.
Tergat praised the host Ugandans for being much improved in athletics in recent years, but quipped that it’s only going to get harder the better they get. “(Soon you’ll be like) Kenya, when we get six gold medals, we still complain.”
When talking about how everyone is part of a larger world and athletics brings us together, Tergat also talked a little about climate change, “The impacts of climate change is real and we cannot run away from it.”
One last thing: Tegat has slimmed down a bit. When we last saw him a few years ago, he’d gained significant weight but he’s lost much of that and we complimented him on his appearance. He smiled said there was a good reason for it – he’s started running again. He said an injury had prevented him from running for a while but he’s now back running a little for fitness.
Sasha Gollish is not your average world championship competitor
If you thought it was totally bizarre that the IAAF featured a 35-year-old runner who has never made the World Championships or Olympics on the track as one of its featured athletes today, you would not be alone.
But Gollish has a fascinating backstory (and she won the NACAC champs). In fact, it was so good that we decided to give Gollish her own article. You can read the Sasha Gollish story here.
“By trade I am not a runner, I am an engineer. I went to engineering school. Used to build highways. I drank a lot of beer, which is what engineers do,” said Gollish.
Seb Coe at World XC
Importance of XC:
On What Can Be Done to Incentive People/Countries to Run XC:
Seb Coe on Frankie Fredericks
Seb Coe on Russians at Worlds 2017
We’ll have more on Tegla Loroupe’s peace work next week but she stressed the importance of refugee athletes and finding humanity in sport.