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Unshod Gebremarian shooed home as Junior Men’s Winner

Unshod Gebremarian shooed home as Junior Men’s Winner
Phil Minshull for the IAAF
24 March 2002 – Dublin, Ireland  -Nobody is keeping the statistics for how many IAAF world champions have won their titles with just one shoe but no one at the Leopardstown racecourse on Sunday could remember any other’s than Ethiopia’s Gebre-egziable Gebremarian, who followed in the footsteps of his compatriot Kenenisha Bekele 12 months ago by winning the junior men’s gold medal.

“I lost my shoe at the start of the race,” said Gebremarian, who didn’t reveal whether it had been clawed off by another runner or just by the spongy surface, which had got noticeably more muddy from Saturday after some overnight rain.

“It took me a few kilometres to get used to the sensation of running with just one shoe, but I’ve run barefoot in the past so it wasn’t so strange. It was always my idea to start steadily because I knew the Kenyans would try go very fast from the gun, but this wasn’t part of my plan.”

The Ethiopian junior men’s champion last month - whose full name means Servant of God, Servant of Mary -  proved to be an accurate prophet in his first ever race outside of his native country.

Abel Cheruiyot and Thomas Kiplatan - who were eventually to finish 2nd and 4th - sped into the lead from the gun and after 3km of the 8km race the leading pack only consisted on five men, with Gebremarian lying back in 10th.

The Kenyan pair, assisted by their compatriot Eliud Kipchoge, were concentrating on the threat posed by Uganda’s Boniface Kiprop. However, by 6km Gebremarian had got used to having spikes only on one foot and was starting rapidly to close the gap on the leading group.

With 1,500m to go, Gebremarian had joined the leading quartet of the three Kenyans and Kiprop, and he was the only man to follow Cheruiyot when he surged at the bell. Coming into the final 200m, Gebremarian - whose upright style in in the fashion of many leading Ethiopian runners including the legendary Haile Gebrselassie - overtook the loping Cheruiyot and sped away for a one second victory.

Gebremarian became the  first runner from the southern province of Tigray to win a title on the global stage since Miruts Yifter hit double gold at the 1980 Moscow Olympics and crossed the line in 23:18, followed closely by Cheruiyot, with Kiprop winning Uganda’s first ever individual world cross country medal in third, stopping the clock at 23:28.

Curiously, Cheruiyot and Kiprop both come from the same Kalenjin tribe that inhabits the Rift Valley, despite representing different countries, the pair living only a few miles apart and separated only by a border established in colonial times.

Kenya, despite being displaced at the top of the individual medal podium, packed well enough to lift their 14th junior men’s title in 15 years, with Kipchoge in 5th and Nicolas Kemboi in 7th completing their scoring quartet.

Gebremarian lead Ethiopia to the silver medals, while Uganda repeated their performance of last year by coming home third.