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Kenyans Poised For Medals at World Cross Country Championships - 2002-03-22

Athletes from Kenya and Ethiopia are expected to bring home medals from this weekend's IAAF, International Association of Athletics Federations, World Cross Country Championships in Dublin, Ireland.

African runners have dominated the World Cross Country Championships for the last 20 years, and their reign is unlikely to come to an end over the coming weekend here in Dublin. Last year, in the Belgian town of Ostend, Kenya and Ethiopia won 10 of the 12 titles at stake, and a similar haul can be expected this time around.

In the featured race of the next two days, the men's 12-kilometer event on Sunday, Kenya's Richard Limo, who is the 5,000 meters world champion on the track, will do battle with the two-time defending champion Mohammed Mourit, who originally hails from Morocco, but now runs for Belgium. And if Limo falters and finds himself unable to bring the gold medal back to Kenya, then his compatriot Charles Kamathi could well succeed. The Nairobi policeman was third last year, but went on to win the world 10,000 meters track title in Edmonton, Canada. And one should not forget Ethiopia's Kenenisa Bekele, who won last year's world junior title, and looks ever more comfortable in his first year in the senior ranks.

In the women's long race over eight kilometers, Britain's Paula Radcliffe will be defending her title. But she will face a strong challenge from Ethiopia's Ayelech Worku and Merima Denboba, who have both been medalists at these championships in the past.

And while the long races can trace their history back to the start of the last century, there are now short four-kilometer races on the program. They were established in 1998. In the men's four kilometer race, Kenya's defending champion Enock Koech will be missing after an untimely bout of malaria. But the title could still end up in Kenyan hands, as it's done since the inception of these races, with Sammy Kipketer, holder of several world bests on the road. Looking ready to lift his first major international title. He will have to fight off a strong contingent of Ethiopians, including the Olympic 5000 meters gold medalist, Million Wolde.

Gete Wami won the women's short race last year. But the diminutive Ethiopian is also missing. She is suffering from injuries. And so the favorite is now Kenya's Edith Masai, who was third last year.

African runners are often noted for their prodigious talent at a young age. But Masai's story is completely the other way around. She is just a few weeks shy of her 35th birthday, but only started serious running four years ago as a divorced single mother.

This year's World Cross Country Championships will be held on the Leopardstown race course, which has seen many great horse racing victories. But it will be two legs, not four, that will be on display as more than 1,000 runners from 70 countries compete here in Dublin.

In addition to individual honors, team titles are also at stake. In the senior men's long race, Kenya protects a phenomenal 16-year winning streak, which has become a source of national pride. Perhaps only Ethiopia has the strength and depth to end this run of success.

Kenya is also the defending women's long race champions. But this year, both Britain and the United States have sent strong squads, and there could be a non-African team on top of the podium for the first time since 1994.