(L-R) Marilson Gomes dos Santos of Brazil, Lornah Kiplagat of the Netherlands and Zersenay Tadese of Eritrea pose during a press conference for the IAAF Caixa World Half Marathon Championships (Getty Images) © Copyright
General News Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Kiplagat, Tadese and Dos Santos reflect on Beijing and look forward World Half Marathon, Rio 2008

Reigning twotime World Road Running champions Lornah Kiplagat (NED) and Zersenay Tadese (ERI), and Marilson  Gomes dos Santos (BRA) the 2006 New York City Marathon winner were the athlete guests at today’s IAAF Press Conference ahead of tomorrow’s IAAF / CAIXA World Half Marathon Championships (Sunday 12 Oct).

The conference which as per tradition officially opened the championships was hosted by IAAF President Lamine Diack, who along with the athletes was joined by General Secretary Pierre Weiss, and Roberto Gesta de Melo, CONSUDATLE, Brazilian Athletics Confederation and LOC President.

Lornah Kiplagat (NED)

Overlooking the change of the competitions name, you return as double defending champion, and with an individual silver medal also to your name, if you were to win here you would become the most decorated athlete (individual medals) in the 17 years of the global road running title. How special is this event in Rio and the World Half Marathon championships in general to you?

“The World Half Marathon Championships is very important to me. I like road racing and I started out as a road runner before I started doing track racing and cross country as well. It’s a real pleasure and an honour to do this event and nice to know that I have achieved so much. But I don’t expect records to last forever and I believe that they are there to be broken. I trained hard after the (Olympic) Games with my sole focus on this event it is always good to have the chance to fulfil your dreams. I want to enjoy the experience here.

You arrived in Rio on Monday. What are your impressions of Brazil? Have you enjoyed your visit so far? You have had plenty of time to acclimatise and prepare?

“Well when I left Kenya it was raining. I arrived in Amsterdam and it was raining and then when I landed in Rio it was raining hard so I was wondering what was going on in the world! But today I woke up and was very happy to see the sun and the beach. I have always wanted to visit Rio and have taken a few days after the event so that I can visit the city properly and relax on the beach. As for next year I am looking forward to running a good marathon.”

There are especially strong teams from Kenya, Ethiopia, Japan and Russia which will make this a very competitive race. So does it create any extra pressure on you that that most people have already hung tomorrow’s gold medal around your neck?

“This is a World Championships so you don’t come here expecting no competition. Everyone trains hard and everyone thinks they can do well. I am ready for that and haven’t come to Rio just to see Copacobana beach.  And I don’t really believe in pressure – I use the expectations as a support to help me achieve better results."

"I took time off after Beijing because I had to travel back from China to Africa, where I normally train. Since then, I decided not to race in Europe and just stay at home to prepare properly.”

Your front running made this summer’s Beijing Olympic 10,000m final into the greatest women’s duel at that distance in history, both Tirunesh Dibaba and Elvan Abeylegesse under 30 min. African, European, North American and World Junior records were all broken. But your brave running left you finishing 8th. Do you have any regrets? Did you lose the chance of a medal by your tactics?

“Of course, it is always disappointing when you train hard and miss out on the gold or any other medal. But the fact is that I lost 4 weeks before the Olympics due to a virus so in the end, I was actually very satisfied with the result I achieved there. You also have to remember that I have only recently started racing on the track and I think Beijing was only my third big race at 10,000m after a career of 16 (or 18?) years.”

“So I am at peace with what I did at the Olympics. During track races part of me believes more in the effort and determination you commit to your running than tactics, so I have no regrets at all about Beijing.”

I guess Beijing would have helped to hone your speed, something which is going to help you tomorrow?

“I have found that training for the track helps me produce good performances on the road as well.”

Zersenay Tadese (ERI)

We heard that Lornah has been here since Monday but you had a very difficult journey from Eritrea to Brazil, at one stage spending 16 hours waiting around in an airport when in transit. Do you think this will affect your race, are you in good shape?

“I am fine now. The trip was not easy because I was not able to collect my visa in Egypt as originally hoped and had to make a trip to Germany, but I have trained very well and I am rested so will do my best.”

The race in Udine last year was very close. You beat Patrick Makau by just three seconds. He returns this year. Who else will be your main rivals tomorrow? Or like Lornah do you just run your own race and tactics without worrying about your opponents?

“When you come to an event like this you expect to run against top athletes so I don’t pay too much attention to favourites. All the runners who take the line will be tough. I never underestimate any rival. I am in good shape and have come to try to win.”

Like Lornah, you also helped to create a great Olympics 10,000m final in Beijing. You pushed the pace hard in the seventh and eight kilometres, and the pace never dropped after that point. But you also ended up without a medal while in Athens four years before you were the Olympic bronze medallist. How great a disappointment was that for you, and does it make it even more important for you to win here in Rio to end your year on victory?

“At the Olympics even a fifth place is not easy to achieve, so I was not too disappointed. After the Games I went back into training and have been working very hard. I am always happy to run this event because I prefer road running to anything else.”

Is it true that you will try the full marathon for the first time next year?

“I am talking to my advisors about moving up to the marathon, either in 2009 or 2010 but nothing is decided yet.”

Marilson Gomes dos Santos (BRA)

In 2006 you won the New York Marathon and I guess that that race must be the highlight of your career so far BUT if you were to win a medal at the World championships in front of your home crowd that would top that. How much are you looking forward to running in Rio?

“I have run all over the world but there is something special about running in front of people who know you well and I always get great support when I run in Brazil. I know the Rio course very well and am sure that I will get tremendous support from the spectators as will the other members of the Brazilian team. The course is quite fast and of course, the scenery is beautiful.”

“On the other hand, I don’t think that you should overstate the importance of “home advantage” as I don’t think it matters that much. I have raced all over the world and you adapt to each environment. The important thing is to check the course and especially the gradient of the various stages, so that you know what to do at different times. You need to be well prepared.”

You were seventh in these championships last year in Udine, setting a national record of 59:33 but so far this year you have only run one half marathon in just under 63 minutes (62:57 1st  Santo Andre 13 Apr), and you failed to finish the full marathon in Beijing. What physical shape are you in? Are you confident that you can run well tomorrow?

“Well I only had one goal this year which was to run well at the Olympics but that didn’t work out for me so I am now really looking forward to this opportunity. I am racing at home and will enjoy myself. It won’t be easy though so I have no illusions. The Beijing Olympics showed that athletics is a sport where you should expect surprises. You have to perform on the day.”

You are the Area record holder at 5000m (13:19.43) and 10,000m (27:28.12). How important is your good track speed in making you a good road runner at half marathon and the marathon?

“My track speed compliments my road running and vice versa. If you improve in one area, then you find the benefits in the other too. I found that when I started running marathons my performances on the track improved as well, so I am very happy to combine the different surfaces.”

Being the local hero you are going to receive great support from the people of Rio. Do you expect a Carnival type atmosphere on Sunday?

“Yes for sure. Brazilians love sport and I expect there to be a lot of people along the side of the course cheering on the runners. The best in the world are here to compete and will get a lot of support.”

Question to all three

Do you consider yourself a track runner or a road runner, and which do you enjoy the most?

Lornah – “Track training really helps me in the build up to my half marathon and marathon races. I enjoy doing both, but I actually prefer road running. Why? I think it is the freedom. I like to feel the difference in every kilometre that I run. It inspires me more than running on the track.”

Tadese – “I like running on all surfaces but prefer road running as well but also cross country. I like track running the least of all.”

Marilson – “I have records at all events from 5000m on the track to the marathon so in the end, I am a runner and am happy whatever I do.”

Nick Davies and Chris Turner for the IAAF