Monday, April 03, 2006

Along with many other things, the World Cross Country Championships are an annual reminder of the limits of modernity. Just one of the top 24 in the men's long race, the crown jewel event, was white or maybe more specifically, not from Africa. Runners from Kenya, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Uganda and Morocco dominated the race, actually illustrated by this picture from the short race. To me, what's more important about these countries is not their relative obscurity or the race of their inhabitants, but their sheer poverty. Ethiopia and Eritrea are easily one of the two least-desirable places to live in the world. In fact, I spent more money to take a course in Greek philosophy ($837 plus $80 in books) than the average person can spend all year in either country.

After all, for all the heart-rate monitors, energy bars and microfibre clothing that the West churns out, there is no product, legal or otherwise, that can produce a runner who can stay with a Bekele, Tadesse or a Mathathi for twelve merciless, torrid kilometres with surge after surge. Far from innate, such ability is the product of frenetic training and a fortunately unfortunate environment. This is a sport so simple and wonderously beautiful that tiny Eritrea, with a population rivaling that of the Greater Toronto Area, can be a power. As I am wont to say in face of the commercial claims to the contrary, running is about running, not the Dri-Fit.

On then, with the results:

45 van Buskirk Kate CAN 21:42 2:15

It's not going to surprise anyone, but of the 36 medals awarded to teams and individuals, 28 went to Ethiopia and Kenya. The two nations both had 14, as well as an equal share of all twelve gold medals. The suddenly titanic Eritreans, testaments to the workmanlike teamwork that is so central to cross country (silver in the men's long race by finishing 4-7-8-9), captured two.

Their silver medal is certainly the upset of the championships and one of its biggest stories. Not only did they beat the vaunted Ethiopian squad that had a miserable team showing (Dinkessa, Gebremariam ran two very poor races) but they almost won the gold medal, finishing four points behind Kenya. Timing is crucial to victory: as much as Eritrea ran the perfect race, they benefited from Ethiopia unexpectedly faltering. Just go ask Peyton Manning when next he'll have such a clean run to the Super Bowl.

Returning to Fukuoka, the Moroccans, led by bronze medallist in the men's short race by my namesake Adil ("It's not a chesterfield!") Kaouch, grabbed two. The Australians, the Dutch and the Japanese (2) were the lone industrialized nations to win medals, the Dutch on the strength of Kenyan-born Lornah Kiplagat.

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