Atelew Bekele takes a commanding win at the European XC championships in Velenje (© Mark Shearman)
Brussels, BelgiumEuropean Cross Country champion Atelaw Bekele can’t wait to appear in front of his local fans next Sunday at the Brussels IAAF Cross Country Permit Meeting.
The surprise winner of the European title in Velenje (Slovenia) will face Sergey Lebid of the Ukraine and a strong Kenyan delegation, headed by Isiah Kiplangat Koech and Josphat Bett.
In the Women’s race last year’s winner Caroline Chepkwony of Kenya will try to add another victory to her tally. Steph Twell, Emma Pallant and Hattie Dean of Great Britain, Almensh Belete of Ethiopia, Adrienne Herzog of the Netherlands and Veerle Dejaeghere of Belgium will provide the challenge.
Atelaw Bekele, born to be a cross country runner
24-year-old Atelaw Yeshetela Bekele unexpectedly became the European Cross Country champion last Sunday in Velenje. The astonishing fact is that the Belgian hardly has any credentials on the track. His personal bests of 29:47.60 and 13:43.20 are all but impressive. Bekele is a true cross country runner who can literally fly on any type of natural surface. In Velenje he secured victory on the uphill sections of the course that he attacked with ease. Bekele, now a rising star in cross country, also aims to smash his track figures this summer.
The steep hills in Brussels can prove to be an advantage for Bekele. But he will require good form if he wants to beat Sergey Lebid, a three-time winner in Brussels who is looking for revenge after underperforming in Velenje. The Ukrainian came into the European Championships slightly injured and with a limited preparation. He withdrew from the race in the final lap because he didn’t consider himself sufficiently competitive.
Isiah Kiplangat Koech finished second to Lebid last year in Brussels and the young Kenyan will not be satisfied with anything less than winning this year. Koech, who celebrates his 18th birthday next Monday made a massive progression this year, highlighted by his fourth place in the 5000m at the World Championships in Daegu. 2009 World Junior champion Josphat Bett is said to be in excellent shape while 17-year-old Gilbert Kirui, the African Games 3000m Steeplechase winner seems to be improving all the time.
A strong British delegation is headed by Steve Vernon and James Wilkinson. Finally Atelaw Bekele doesn’t rule out his friend and training partner Dame Tasame for the top spots. The Ethiopian is a strong finisher.
Chepkwony the clear favourite
Caroline Chepkwony loves to run at the site of the 1958 World Expo in Brussels. The Kenyan came in second in 2009 and won the race in 2010, twice amidst heavy snow and in the freezing cold. The local fans will all be behind Almensh Belete, an Ethiopian who received confirmation this week that she will get a Belgian passport shortly. Belete finished second in Leffrinckoucke recently, ahead of European champion Fionnuala Britton.
European Under-23 Cross Country champion Emma Pallant is one of the outsiders in this race, as well as her British team-mates Stephanie Twell and Hattie Dean. Former winners in Brussels Adrienne Herzog of the Netherlands and 38-year-old crowd pleaser Veerle Dejaeghere of Belgium complete the list of contenders.
Ivo Hendrix for the IAAF