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UK Athletics

Men’s reports from World Cross Country Championships

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Mo Farah
Mo Farah

European Cross Country Champion Mo Farah celebrated his 24th birthday 24 hours late by producing the run of his young life and leading the Norwich Union Great Britain and Northern Ireland team to eighth place in the Senior Men’s 12km race at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships on Mombasa Golf Course, Kenya, on Saturday 24 March. GB was the first non-African team to finish the gruelling race.

Senior Men’s 12km

Farah (Newham and Essex Beagles) – 37th and 40th in his previous two World Cross races as a senior – paced himself patiently but perfectly in the sapping heat over a narrow, twisting course that made overtaking tiring and difficult.


After 2km, he was 68th in 5 minutes 58 seconds, 10 seconds behind the leaders. After 4km, reached by the leaders in 11:52, Farah was up to 55th in 12:17. By halfway, passed by the leaders in 17:58, he was 37th in 18:31. At 8km, passed by the leaders in 23:48, he was 21st in 24:48. Through 10km, reached by the leaders in 29:49, he was 15th in 31:09.


And he maintained his momentum on the last lap, which will be remembered by most of the massive and increasingly hysterical crowd for the moment Kenenisa Bekele’s five-year reign ended with the Ethiopian stepping off the course, leaving the way open for Zersenay Tadese (Eritrea) to ease away to victory in 35:50, well clear of Kenya’s Moses Mosop, second in 36:13, and Bernard Kiprop Kipyego, third in 36:37.


Farah, oblivious to the Bekele drama, ploughed on to advance to 10th place at the finishing line in 37:31. Of the athletes ahead of him, six were from Kenya and one each from Eritrea, Qatar and Uganda.


“It was the hardest race I have ever been in,” said the UK’s quietly spoken and modest Athlete of 2006, who overcame two big setbacks on his way to Mombasa. First he suffered a crashing fall in his 3000m heat at the European Indoor Championships in Birmingham and was too battered and bruised to do himself justice in the final. Then he spent two days ill in bed after flying from Birmingham to the UK Athletics’ World Cross Preparation Camp in Durban, South Africa.


Farah added: “I’ve had a good winter and after winning the Euro Cross, I wanted to do well indoors. When I fell over in Birmingham that made me more determined to do well in Mombasa. Although I missed three days’ training in Durban, the last 10 days went well.


“Even so, when I stood on the start line today, I didn’t have a clue where I might finish. I was just thinking I wanted to run well. And it’s the best I’ve run for a long time.”


Of his Norwich Union GB team mates, Michael Skinner (Blackheath Harriers and Bromley AC) was 62nd in 39:40, Jason Ward (Altrincham AC) 70th in 39:58, Phil Nicholls (Tipton Harriers) 74th in 40:11, Alan Buckley (Gateshead Harriers) 79th in 40:20, Phil Wicks (Belgrave Harriers) 82nd in 40:25, Ben Noad (Highgate Harriers) 101st in 41:21 and Steve Vernon (Stockport Harriers) 113th in 42:00.


Skinner improved on each of the energy-sapping laps: 127th through 2km in 6:17, 116th through 4km in 12:52, 97th at halfway in 19:35, 86th at 8km in 26:22, 74th at 10km in 33:08.


Ward timed his GB debut well: 135th through 2km in 6:19, 118th through 4km in 12:56, 94th at halfway in 19:34, 84th through 8km in 26:22 and 77th through 10km in 33:09.


Nicholls was similarly progressive on his GB debut: 122nd through 2km in 6:16, 110th through 4km in 12:51, 96th at halfway in 19:35, 89th through 8km in 26:24 and 81st through 10km in 33:19.


Buckley was 143rd through 2km in 6:20, 123rd through 4km in 12:58, 105th at halfway in 19:41, 96th through 8km in 26:33 and 90th through 10km in 33:30.


Wicks also followed team instructions to start sensibly and work his way through: 144th through 2km in 6:21, 127th through 4km in 13:01, 112th at halfway in 19:48, 100tyh through 8km in 16:42 and 93rd through 10km in 33:36.


Noad made the most cautious start of all the Brits: 148th of the 163 starters after 2km in 6:24, 142nd in 13:10 through 4km, 131st in 20:13 at halfway, 120th in 27:13 through 8km and 114th in 34:23 through 10km.


Vernon, who had injury problems in his preparations, was 112th in 6:21 after 2km, 115th in 12:52 after 4km, 134th in 20:15 at halfway, 128th in 27:41 through 8km and 123rd in 343 through 10km.


Their combined efforts meant that Norwich Union GB was the first non-African nation in the team result, which read: 1 Kenya 28; 2 Morocco 146; 3 Uganda 185; 4 Eritrea 204; 5 Qatar 238; 6 Tanzania 308; 7 Rwanda 354; 8 Great Britain and Northern Ireland 377.


Skinner, making his fifth appearance in major international championships, described this one as “without doubt the most memorable athletics event I have ever participated in.”


He went on: “I enjoyed the time in South Africa and the squad atmosphere. And the race was the most amazing ever.


“We had spoken a lot beforehand about the conditions but when we pulled up at the course it was more than any of us anticipated. It made the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. I was pleased to come home our second scorer; I think three or four of us were aiming at that. But I felt that as a team we ran well, just as we’d listened to advice as a team. We picked up places all the way through the race and I think we justified our selections and the training trip: I don’t believe many people expected us to be eighth team.”


Ward described his Norwich Union GB debut as “a lifetime’s experience.” He added: “I couldn’t believe how many people were there and how hot it really was when we got going. The plan was to set off slow and try and work my way through. I think I set off a bit quick, but it’s hard not to in that company! I’m pleased that I managed to get past 60 people. I think all the Brits used the right tactics.”


Nicholls summed-up the drama of the occasion: “It was like stepping onto the set of a war movie. The way we ran for each other was amazing, especially with even African athletes collapsing around us with heat exhaustion. The plan for us was to set off steady and work through. I think we were the only team that moved through as a unit. Nobody dropped back.


“The whole experience was absolutely amazing. The coaching staff and medical team have been brilliant. And Alan Storey [the Norwich Union GB Team Leader] has been like a father to all of us for the last three weeks, at the training camp in Durban and here in Mombasa. He deserves a lot of credit for what the whole team has achieved.”


Buckley, who was so determined to prepare fully for African conditions that he honeymooned in Ethiopia last autumn, reported that even Richard Nerurkar, the vastly experienced former GB international on cross country and road who is now based in Addis Ababa, said he had never before been to a championships like the one in Mombasa.


“Just before the race, the excitement was so amazing, it was kind of intimidating,” said Buckley. “I set off cautiously knowing I would come through. I got to halfway and wasn’t able to pick it up as much as I wanted because of the conditions, but I still moved through because I hadn’t blown myself away at the start.


“The training camp made a massive difference. It gave me confidence that I could take the heat on in Mombasa. I feel so privileged to have been there.”


Wicks said of his GB debut: “I’ve enjoyed the whole experience – both the acclimatisation camp and the race itself. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It’s hard to put into words the amount of stuff I have learnt from the training and the race. I’ve had so many new experiences, including being drug tested for the first time.


“The atmosphere of the race was breathtaking – like nothing I’ve experienced in the UK. We got there during the junior women’s race and seeing people collapsing in the heat was a bit worrying.


“I felt confident going into the race but I probably went off too conservatively because I felt quite good at the finish. I didn’t really hit a bad patch and felt quite strong. I was dreading the race yet I enjoyed it.


“The fact that all eight of us finished showed we all benefited from Durban. Alan Storey has been amazing – the amount of knowledge we have been able to gain from him can only be positive for all of us who were there.


“I hope this is the first stepping stone of many. This whole experience has inspired me to want to push on to the next level and become a regular GB team member.”


Noad, who gets married next month, described his World Cross date as “a wonderful experience even though it was a real battle to finish.”


Determined to make up for the disappointment of 12 months ago, when a stitch forced him to drop out of the World Championships 12km in Japan, he added: “There was no way I was going to come out unless I was on a stretcher! I didn’t have a great run. I struggled in the heat early on. But I tried to tough it out.


“And it was a great team performance after the criticism we have had in the last couple of years. When you think that even Ethiopian could not finish a team, it was great credit to everyone that we improved from 16th last year to eighth this time.”


Vernon, a medal winner at European Cross Country Championships as a junior and now making himself a fixture in senior teams, also emphasised the positives from what he described as “my worst performance and best experience.”


Explaining that he was again restricted by a diaphragm problems that severely limits his breathing, as at last year’s World Mountain Running and European Cross Country Championships, he said: “I was disappointed with my run but nothing will compare with 100,000 going wild for cross country. If only we can get that in Wollaton Park!


“The preparation camp was awesome. The preparation and motivation were such that we couldn’t wait to get on the line. I got emotional before the race just making my way through the crowds to the start.” 

Junior Men’s 8km

The Norwich Union GB team finished 13th – the second European nation, one place behind Germany – in a race dominated by African nations: 1 Kenya 10; 2 Eritrea 44; 3 Ethiopia 54; 4 Uganda 55; 5 Burundi 102; 6 Tanzania 104; 7 Morocco 134; 8 Sudan 176.


Kenya took the first four individual places: 1 Asbel Kiprop 24:07; 2 Vincent Kiprop Chekok 24:12; 3 Mathew Kipkoech Kisorio 24:23; 4 Leonard Patrick Komon 24:25.


Of the Norwich Union GB teenagers, UK Cross Challenge Under 20 champion Lee Carey (Nuneaton Harriers) was 58th in 27:17, Andrew Livingstone (Thurrock Harriers) 72nd in 27:47, Conor McNulty (Kilbarchan AAC) 77th in 28:00, Ben Lindsay (Pendle AC) 87th in 28:31 and David Forrester (St Helens Sutton AC) 89th in 28:33. There were 105 finishers.


Adam Hickey (Southend on Sea AC), who has battled for full fitness all winter, was one of 23 athletes not to finish. He dropped out with a sore calf having led the Norwich Union GB team through the first 2km in 52nd place in 6:04. At that point, McNulty was 70th in 6:11, Carey 84th in 6:17, Livingstone 85th in 6:18, Lindsay 100th in 6:24 and Forrester 105th in 6:26.


By halfway, with the leaders through in 12:01, Carey was 75th in 13:03, McNulty 78th in 13:09, Livingston 95th in 13:20, Lindsay 103rd in 13:33 and Forrester 105th in 13:37.


After 6km, reached by the leaders in 18:12, Carey was 64th in 20:11, McNulty 78th in 20:28, Livingstone 85th in 20:37, Lindsay 99th in 21:07 and Forrester 100th in 21:08.


Carey, who prepared in the heat chamber at the University of Birmingham, described his performance as “not bad” and went on: “I felt really bad after the race. I never felt like that in the heat chamber – presumably because I was relaxed in there. I think it was the intensity of the race that made the difference. I improved on last year [when he finished 64th in Fukuoka] even though I fell over in a bunker on the last lap. My legs just buckled going into the sand. I struggled after that … mind you, I was struggling before the fall anyway.”


Livingstone said: “It was tough – really challenging. The first couple of laps, I took it easy. My last two were quite strong and I’m pleased to be second man home, though I wasn’t too fussed where I came with this being my first World Cross. I just wanted to finish and there were people dropping all over the place, even Africans.”


McNulty said: “It was murder! I lost my left shoe after about 100 metres. I never thought of dropping out. I did my best for the team. But my left foot’s cut to bits.”


Lindsay, who had acclimatised in the heat chamber at St Mary’s University Twickenham, said: “It was the hardest race of my life. I don’t think the heat was so much of a problem. It was the course, which was very sandy. The bunkers made it very hard on the legs. Pulling on that vest and running for my country was the best … I was rarin’ to go. I wanted to be at least a scorer for the team, and I was fourth scorer, but it was really hard.”


Forrester, the English National Under 17 champion, said: “It was tough but it was good fun and a great experience. You’re never by yourself. You can never settle down. It’s intense all the way round. I’m really chuffed just to have finished.”


After the athletes flew back to the UK on Monday 26 March, Alan Buckley best articulated the back-down-to-earth feeling from his Yorkshire base: “It’s a lovely sunny day up here. And I’m cold. I’m about to go out and chop some firewood…”