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Wami wants to make it two in a row

Wami wants to make it two in a row

17 March 2000 - Ethiopia has made an extraordinary contribution to the development of the World Cross Country Championships since the country's first appearance nearly two decades ago in 1981. Yet no runner from the vast East African country has ever managed to win an individual title in consecutive years.

Stars such as Mohammed Kedir, Derartu Tulu and Assefa Mezegebu were unable to repeat their wins, but tomorrow the diminutive Gete Wami hopes to make history by winning gold in the women's 8km race for the second year on the trot.

"This year I have run fewer races. My season has been shortened because I got married in November," Wami said.

"I intended to start my season at the Brussels IAAF World Cross Challenge meeting back in December but I had to pull out of that because there were still so many family and friends to see," she added.

Nevertheless, Wami is still cautiously optimistic that she can create her own little piece of Ethiopian athletics history in Vilamoura.

She was unbeaten on the international circuit this winter - until she tripped and failed to finish at the IAAF Cross Challenge in Nairobi - and has victories in Cross Challenge races in Seville, Durham and Vilamoura under her belt.

Wami would never equate winning a second consecutive world cross country title - her third in total after her first triumph in 1996 - is the equal of the Olympic triumphs of her compatriots Abebe Bikila or Miruts Yifter, or the stunning performances in the last decade by Haile Gebrselassie.

"However if I win it will get noticed in Ethiopia so I will be very happy," she said modestly.

She has already made it plain to her rivals, including Britain's Paula Radcliffe who finished behind her in Belfast and Seville last year and who also came home twice behind her this winter, that she has little intention of changing the racing tactics she shares with Gabriela Szabo.

Vanquished opponents have criticised her tendency for letting them do the pace making until she unleashes a devastating sprint finish over the last few hundred metres.

"But it's what works well for me and everybody is in a race to win," she comments, in a matter of fact tone.

There are no hidden secrets, no tricks to her running, either in races or preparing for them. In training she is notorious for her tough sessions, which often leave male companions wilting. Her nickname among the top Ethiopians is "glue": because she has a habit of sticking closely to the men when they are out running - whether in the Netherlands, where she lives during the European circuit, or back home in the hills close to Addis Ababa, where the Ethiopian national squad usually train.

She is not afraid of pushing herself to the limits because she knows the sport has become a passport to prosperity and fame for a woman from a modest farming family.

"There is no doubt that I'd be working on the farm as well if I had not been a runner. Running is tough at times but working on a farm in Ethiopia would have been far, far, tougher for me," Wami reflects.