Gete Wami takes the tape at the 1999 IAAF World Cross Country Chamionships in Belfast (© Allsport) © Copyright
General News Vilamoura, Portugal

Ethiopians at home in Vilamoura

There were no complaints about the conditions from the powerful Ethiopian squad, who can be expected to pick up several medals in Vilamoura this weekend.

"This is our best team," said team leader Bezabih Wolde. "We are well prepared and everyone is sound. The athletes are very happy. The humidity seems a little higher than in Addis, but the team feel as if they are at home."

Saturday could be a monumental day for the East African country, with Worknesh Kidane poised to retain her World Junior title and Haylu Mekonnen among the favourites for the men's short race. "He's a very promising athlete," said Wolde, "and he knows how to attack a race."

The final race on the first day of the Championships is the women's long race which will be graced by Ethiopian distance queens Derartu Tulu and Gete Wami. Wolde revealed that Tulu - who beat Wami in the Ethiopian Championships - may decide to run in flat shoes rather than spikes depending the official course inspection.

Ethiopia's team chief is just as excited about his team's prospects for Sunday's races, in particular the Junior Men's race. Newcomer Demissie Girma will spearhead his country's challenge. Girma (17) won the Ethiopian Junior Championships and Vilamoura will be his first race abroad.

"If he's coached properly I think he can make history," said Wolde. "It is not easy to qualify for these events in Ethiopia, just like in Kenya. I have been to Kenya and things are the same more or less. Everybody from the villages, provinces and regions will come and compete. Thousands of athletes run.

When I observed this boy [Girma], I was very impressed. He is well-built for athletics. In the next few months or years, I think we will see his name among the heroes of athletics."