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UK Athletics

Edinburgh Host Cross in Style

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2 April 2008


Article by Ed Warner as seen in Athletics Weekly Magazine


After the wild weather of recent weekends, it is a fair bet that Edinburgh will witness a return to traditional conditions for the IAAF World Cross Country Championships this weekend. The ups and downs around Arthur’s Seat guarantee a stark contrast to last year’s Kenyan golf course, but you can reckon on mud, wind and an enormous temperature differential exaggerating it further.

If there was a ticket price, it would be an easy cliché to claim that the rematch between defending senior men’s champion Zersenay Tadese and the great Kenenisa Bekele would be worth the price of admission alone. But there isn’t. Entry is free and the Local Organising Committee is hopeful that thousands will embrace the elements for the chance to see world class athletes in the closest proximity.

I’m pleased that the LOC, supported by UKA and Scottish Athletics, has organised a weekend of road and cross country events around the formal races themselves. This is an advertisement for our sport. Saturday’s Welcome the World Young Athlete Relays and Sunday’s Welcome the World 5K Road Race are opportunities for people of all ages – including a few governing body chairmen and CEOs – to play an active part in the event.

The Norwich Union Great Britain and Northern Ireland team this weekend may be missing one or two of its bigger names, but I am confident that those selected will acquit themselves well. Tadese’s Eritrean fan club may be renowned for their vociferous vocal support, but the sheer weight of home fans is bound to give our athletes their own fillip. And, as things currently stand, this is the last World Championships of any athletic variety scheduled on British soil before 2012.

I was surprised to see that Jason Henderson concluded last week’s AW editorial with the observation that “cross country has never been treated with more disinterest” in Britain. I usually agree with Jason, but on this occasion I guess he and I can compare notes once the weekend’s over and we see how good the show has been and how big the crowds were who came to watch.

Now, though, I can assure him that the hard work put in by the LOC and by Britain’s competing athletes and coaches over recent months shows no disinterest. Where I do agree with Jason is that conventional track and field athletics at and around world class standard enjoys public funding that contrasts with other disciplines.

Despite UK Athletics providing support to such athletes in recent years by way of the non-lottery endurance grants, there is of course no prospect of equivalent lottery funding extending into these areas, so the challenge for UKA and the sport of athletics is to find other avenues to promote its non-Olympic branches. Already, Nova International show that this can be done, through their BUPA Great Edinburgh International X Country, and I hope further pointers will be gained through the experience of Britain’s host status this weekend.