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Edinburgh 2008 Champs

It was with much anticipation that I arrived at Edinburgh by train from London to watch, what was to become, one of the most awesome and memorable cross country races ever run.

I had gone to Edinburgh with a few other avid runners, Wayne Smith, a top ex-SA and now GB duathlete and triathlete, His girlfriend, Jess Petersson, a world class Ironman, triathlete and 2.42 marathoner, Richard Xerri, a British athlete and triathlete, his girlfriend, Naomi Warner, a top Australian runner and Allen Barrie, an enthusiastic and very strong fell runner.

We all shared the passion of running and were keen to see all the athletes in action.

Bekele Edinburgh 2008

Bekele Edinburgh 2008

First up on Saturday morning was the ‘recce’ run. I had heard so much about the beauty of Holyrood Park and was eager to check it out first hand. Meeting at 10am, we made our way towards the magnificent, now extinct volcano, Arthur’s Seat, turned Highland landscape that Holyrood Park surrounds. When we got there it was brimming with people. Local junior races on the road that encircles Holyrood Park were underway, and there were many people milling about. It was surreal running around there with world class athletes from the different nations, all jogging in random directions and in small groups in their smartly designed tracksuits with their countries emblazoned on their backs.

We made our way onto the main field and picked up Mike Skinner and Hayley Yelling, both representing Britain, on a loosening jog. We chatted a bit about the course, tactics and the weather and wished them luck as we jogged around the main field on it’s zigzagging course. A group of Eritreans swooped past us effortlessly in their tracksuits and, although we were all decent runners in our own right, one could not help but feel pretty humbled to be in such talented company.

Large screen TVs, tents, gantries, food outlets and starting stalls were all already in place, The loudspeaker was engrossed with the junior races and a real tangible sense of excitement and anticipation could be sensed in the air.

We then headed for the hills, or should I say mountain. As it got steeper and steeper, we were forced to revert to large steps as this was more economical and quicker than actually running. But the views made the climb to the top of Arthur’s Seat well worth it. The view was spell bounding. Directly below us were all the people moving around like ants and in the distance the once impregnable and majestic Edinburgh castle overlooking the bustling and ancient city of Edinburgh. We finished up our 90 minute run and went back to the hotel with an ever-growing sense of anticipation.

Sunday arrived and at first glance outside confirmed all our anxieties regarding the threatening weather forecast. It was decidedly grey and blustery.We knew we were in for a long, cold and wet day. Again first priority was to get our run out the way which we did, going back for another dose of Holyrood Park, wishing any runners that were out for an early warm up run good luck.

Back home, a quick brekkie, and prepped our camera gear and waterproofs for the day ahead, We got back to Holyrood Park and were amazed at the number of spectators that had turned out. There must have been easily 10 000 or so people dotted all around the course. Getting a spot on the fence was proving decidedly difficult with some places seeing people 3 or 4 deep against the fences and many other people had positioned themselves up into the foothills to be able to get a broarder view of the day’s racing.

The Junior Ladies got off to a rainy start. It was pretty darn cold too, and taking shots under the plastic bags was proving difficult. Just as I was cursing the weather, the rain eased and then stopped altogether, and thankfully remained that way till the end. I could now dispose of my makeshift waterproof gear and focus, if you’ll excuse the pun, on taking some good pics. It was Ethiopia’s race. Genzebe Dibaba, younger sister of the famous Dibaba sisters followed in her siblings’ footsteps and won Gold. Truly a talented and even extended family, considering their aunt none other than Derartu Tulu!

Next up was the Junior Men’s race. Another enthralling contest between the mighty African Nations. Ethiopians, Eritreans and Kenyans all dominating, but not without the Ugandans making a very impressive showing, proof that the Ugandans are becoming more and more of a threat for minor medals against the 3 powerhouses. First athlete not from one of these 4 countries was, Tonny Wamulwa from Zambia in 17th and the first non Africa being Hirotaka Tamura from Japan in 20th place. The Ethioopians again continued with their clean sweep of victories, taking Gold and Silver!

The Senior Ladies were next up. Another super exciting race ensued with Geleta Burka from Ethiopia taking the bull by the horns and dominating the race from the gun. Unfortunately her earlier surges in attempting to break from the Kenyans and her team mates proved decisive in her demise as she blew up on the very last hill, at the very time the irrepressible Tirunesh Dibaba struck for home up and over Haggis Knowe. She surged from 4th at the bottom of the hill and crested it first before unleashing her natural speed to show the rest of the field a clean pair of heels to break the tape. A fantastically timed run which exemplifies all of Dibaba’s talent and experience. Best of the rest, not counting naturalised Ethiopians and Kenyans was Benita Johnson in a very creditable 11th.

Finally it was down to the main race. Exciting stuff. I has positioned myself by that stage on the last right hand bend just before the long downhill to the finish just after Haggis Knowe and could therefore see the action and watch the race on the big screen right at the bottom on the main field. Off it went at the blistering pace one would expect. Field was still tightly packed at the front after the first small lap. All the main contenders were just sitting comfortably in the swarming throng waiting for the competitors to fall off one by one and whittle down to a manageable size. Then the incredible happened… At about 6 minutes or so, Bekele lost his shoe on a tight right hand bend… The commentator on the ‘tannoy’ was very sharp and was immediately onto this, screaming out “Bekeles’s lost his shoe!… Bekeles’s lost his shoe!…” The news spread around like wildfire, and then the updated position he was in, “he’s back running but has lost about 40 or 50 places.” Well that was it, as far as I was concerned he was never going to get back to the front, especially considering on that wet long grass they were splitting at 2.50/km at least! I reckoned top 10, like 8th but he’d never get back to Tadese and co.

Well, unluckily for Tadese they had no idea what had befallen Bekele so tactics did not change. Had Tadese known I think personally he would have picked up the pace there and then to make it as tough for Bekele to claw back. As it turned out, the pace continued as it was and Bekele could be seen on the big screen weaving his way through this world class field almost effortlessly to regain touch with the front guys. When they passed me on the 1st long lap over Haggis Knowe, Bekele was basically back in touch, about 15m off the front guys in about 8th place. Everyone was stunned that he managed to get back and in contention. Truly the sign of an immensely strong and talented runner.

The rest,as you know, is history… Tadese tried repeatedly to shake Bekele, Ebuya and Komon over the last 2 laps, and, try as he might, he just could not do it. Bekele stamped his authority yet again and almost cruised to victory. I could see in Tadese’s face that he was giving absolutely everything. Poor guy, but, man what a gutsy performance. I still think though with his workrate and ability to push so hard for so long, if the Eritreans had’ve told Tadese of Bekele’s earlier plight and he’d adjusted tactics and pushed on earlier, it may have been a lot more interesting as he’d have gone into overdrive from thereon in to get away. Oh well, we can only surmise. The first non Eritrean/Kenyan or Ethiopian was Moses Kipsiro in 13th (Qatar not included) and 1st non-African was from Jorge Torres from the USA with a fantastic 19th place overall.

In conclusion, a fantastic day all in all. The Ethiopians certainly made the day their own by Grand Slamming and winning Gold in all 4 events for the first time ever. The weather held, Edinburgh was a brilliant host and some very special performances were witnessed. All I can say is, bring on next year!

Evan Bond
Time-to-Run Roving Correspondent

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