Wednesday, 27 January 2010

When Harry met Sprinting


When Harry met Sprinting

Unlike his namesake in the famous 1980’s rom-com, Harry Aikines-Aryeetey has no doubts on what he should do- he was born to sprint and destined to be a winner. Nicola Bamford spoke to the cheeky chap of British sprinting about his training, ambitions and that huge physique...

21-year-old Harry first made acquaintance with his true love by pure coincidence. Frantically running away from a barking dog as a youngster, the London-born speedster found his natural talent for powerful sprinting and hasn’t slowed down since.

With parents originating from Ghana, Harry A-A; as he is affectionately known in athletics circles, has taken advantage of the African descent in his genes to turn himself into the speed machine who many believe is the future of British sprinting.

Exciting potential

Bursting onto the scene with a European age-14 best of 10.83 for 100m in 2003, the jovial Michael Khmel-coached runner captured his first international medal soon after; the 2004 Commonwealth Youth Games 100m silver – intriguing the sport with his exciting potential.

Not content with just a bag-full of national age-group medals – mainly of the gold variety – Harry A-A set about targeting World domination and became the first athlete to achieve the 100m and 200m double at the 2005 World Youth Championships; performances that led him to being awarded the ‘Rising Star of the Year’ award by the International Athletics federation and the ‘BBC Young Sports Personality of the Year’ award, respectively.

Finest hour

Now accustomed to global domination, the Loughborough University Sports Science with Management student enjoyed an eye-catching 2006, where he sensationally became the World Junior 100m Champion; his finest hour to date.

Apart from taking the English senior indoor 60m title, the following season however, was a major disappointment for the Sutton and District speedster; as minor stress fractures in the spine forced him to spend eleven-months on the injury sidelines.

No weights allowed

Known for his demonic training mentally, Harry A-A knuckled down to the hard graft at his Loughborough base – where he has the assistance of training partner, 2008 England under23 Champ, James Dasaolu.

With a (very hectic) typical day consisting of a track session, followed by a workout in the gym or Pilates and conditioning then massage or physiotherapy, it’s a good job Khmel has refused to let his charge hit the weights.

“I’m rarely allowed to do much in the weights room,” Harry explains, “Although I can bench 160kg and clean 155kg, I’m holding back as I don’t want to get any bigger. My dad’s a large character but I believe it’s on my mum’s side, too!”

Blasting back to form

Like a starving lion finally unleashed from his cage, Harry A-A quickly blasted back to form and earned selection for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing; where he was a non-competing member of the 4x100m squad.

Filled with experience and bursting to finally showcase his talent in a major senior championship, the Lucozade ambassador took the European under23 title before finishing fifth in the 2009 World Championship trials – behind the notorious, rehabilitated drug-cheat, Dwain Chambers – to book his spot on the 4x100m relay squad for Berlin last summer.

Partnering Simeon Williamson, Tyrone Edgar and Marlon Devonish, the sprinter with 10.10 (100m) and 20.91 (200m) bests, showed speed and composure beyond his years to anchor Team GB to a magnificent bronze.

“2009 was a very good year,” he recalls, “Winning the under23 Europeans was awesome; being on the podium again – winning is what we (athletes) thrive for. Also, knowing I made history by being the first Brit to get an international medal in each age-group (youth, junior and under23) was awesome. (The Berlin bronze) was my first senior medal, which meant even more to me.”

Big ambitions

Understandably still on a high from last year, Harry A-A; who is managed by Jonathan Marks of MTC Management, is relishing the prospect of asserting himself as British number-one at the indoor season curtain-raiser in Glasgow this Saturday.

Competing for the Commonwealth Select team in the 60m, the Superman and Haribo-fanatic will be hoping to fly to a comfortable victory over opponents from GB, USA, Sweden and Germany in the Aviva International.

Top of his to-do list will be taking the scalp of two-time winner and close rival, Craig Pickering, as well as improving on his 6:59 best:

“My fitness is pretty good at the moment, I am in decent shape,” he explains, “Training has been going very well in South Africa (at the GB camp) – I am on track for our plans and being in the sun has had a much better effect than the snow!”

Promising sprint scene

With a plethora of male sprinters with a mix of talented youth and solid experience, Harry A-A agrees that the British sprint scene is looking very promising: “With Dwain making World final and Simeon, I, Craig, James and Tyrone still progressing, it can’t mean anything but positive things for the UK. Being the youngest; I fancy my chances!”

And what of his chances in the Scottish capital’s Kelvin Hall this weekend: “Glasgow should be good. The indoor season for me is purely to improve my 100m. Having to be patient and practice my drive phase is key during the campaign for me.”

“The main aim for me is the European trials and Europeans (in Barcelona) this summer, and long-term, my aims are to win an individual gold in every possible championship! You’ve got to aim high but what I really want is an Olympic gold!”

And with an influx of international titles already to his name, who knows...

Monday, 25 January 2010

Elgoibar, Spain XC report


Elgoibar international cross-country report: Sunday 24th January, 2010: Spanish delight for Hay

Aldershot, Farnham and District’s Jonny Hay was the star performer of a fifteen-strong England squad at the LXVII Cross Internacional Juan Mugerza in Elgoibar, Spain yesterday, writes Nicola Bamford.

Junior Men

In heavy rain and mud-drenched conditions, the 17-year-old took a three-second victory in the junior men’s race over team-mate, Richard Goodman. Fresh from third place in the Cardiff leg of the McCain UK Cross Challenge and twenty-third position in the European under20 Championships in Dublin, Hay improved on fifth in the same competition last year to underline his promise.

Goodman; 16 of Shaftesbury Barnet Harriers, continued his fine vein of form from his recent fifth place in the Continental junior Championships to push Hay all the way to the line.
Warrington’s 18-year-old Harry Ellis; the recently-crowned Northern 3,000m indoor junior Champion placed seventh, whilst World School Games’ 3,000m 5th-placer, Tom Curr (17, Stroud) completed the team in ninth.

Junior Women

Team England’s junior ladies outfit, though incomplete, was the most successful squad of the day for the English lions. Runner-up to an Italian, Bedford and County’s 16-year-old Emily Wallbank - second under17 in the European cross trials last November – was first home, shortly followed by Ruth Haynes (16, AFD) in third position. Melissa Courtney (16, Poole AC) and the winner in Cardiff the previous weekend, finished a fine fourth.

Senior Men

Neilson Hall; the 27-year-old Bedford and County runner, ran strongly to place inside the top-ten of a classy international field. In his debut race of 2010, Hall put in a sterling performance to mix it with some of the best mud-larks on the cross circuit in tenth position.

Following a solid sixteenth-place in the BUPA Great Edinburgh international cross earlier this month, Altrincham’s 31-year-old Dave Norman finished in nineteenth, with Phil Nicholls (26, Tipton) shortly behind in twentieth. 23-year-old Jonathan Mellor of Liverpool Harriers; twelfth in Edinburgh, finished in twenty-third position to complete the England squad.

Senior Women

In an equally-impressive international field, Sale Harriers’ 30-year-old Sonia Samuels; fresh from a fine twenty-first place in Dublin, ran solidly to place eighth. Rebecca Robinson (27, Kendal) finished second counter in tenth-place, just ahead of masters’ athlete, Tara Krzywicki (35, Charnwood) and Julia Bleasdale (28, Hillingdon AC) in eleventh and thirteenth, respectively.

Monday, 18 January 2010

Juggling the pressure


Juggling the pressure

While most international athletes have the pleasure of being full-time sportsmen and women and spending spring on warm-weather training camps, Steph Twell will be contending with the pressures of training and competing at World level and the final term of a university degree, writes Nicola Bamford.

The 20 year-old Aldershot, Farnham and District 1500m runner hopes to live up to her tag as one of Team GB’s ‘faces of 2012’ and is doing a first-class job, considering her tender years and hectic lifestyle.

Colchester-born Twell is no stranger to the limelight, following years of gathering a plethora of age-group national titles as a teenager and establishing herself as a fine international performer over the past four years as both a junior and a senior.

The Mick Woods-coached athlete has not only taken three consecutive European junior cross-country titles, but also a European 1500m silver medal and was crowned 2008 World junior 1500m Champion before being named the continents’ Rising Star of that same year.

World senior scene

The St Mary’s university-based metric-mile specialist truly leapt onto the World senior scene that summer with an appearance in the Beijing Olympics; narrowly missing out on a place in the 1500m final and attained a place on the 2009 World Championship team for Berlin, where Twell – who struggled with the Portuguese heat in the preparation camp - disappointed with a twelfth-place finish in her heat.

Making the Olympic squad four years ahead of schedule and three months after injury, Twell revealed: “Beijing was incredible. I went in as one athlete and came out as another. I matured as an athlete in terms of preparation and carrying myself in races. The Olympics gave me exposure to the best athletes in the World and has given me great confidence for the future. It was an eye-opener to see what it takes to make it as a finalist.”

Despite the Championship blip in the German capital, 2009 was a successful year for the Ricky Simms-managed starlet. Twell used the summer to register eye-catching personal bests over 800m (2:03.80), 1500m (4:03.48), 5,000m (15:18.47) and 10km road (32:35) to rank highly in the UK All-time lists and in her words, mature as an athlete.

“In terms of development, it was a successful year for me,” Twell explained. “I’m improving on all the tools in my kitbag. Success is not only defined by medals; it’s about enjoyment. Hopefully I will be able to move on from the ghosts of Berlin.”

Occasional lows

With highs there must inevitably and occasionally be lows; and a rare below-par display from Twell was witnessed in the European cross-country Championships in Dublin last month. The modest, outgoing Twell finished eleventh in the under23 event; a painful performance attributed to an untimely injury:

“I was injured for three weeks in November but then because of the Christmas break from university, I got back into training well. I did a lot of different sessions over Christmas so it was a refreshing period for me,” Twell explained. “I’ve always said it’s about the response (after a bad performance); about how you move on from it. I’ve got so many exciting opportunities ahead of me so I like to focus on what I do best.” Even the very best have off days – a belief Woods likes to emphasise.

As expected of an athlete of such fine calibre and positivity, Twell bounced back to a superb fifth place in the BUPA Great Edinburgh international earlier this month and two high-quality runs on the European circuit in Italy and Spain against World-class field recently.

Immense pressure

Such accomplishments are all the more impressive considering the immense pressure from all corners of Twell’s life. Splitting her time between her training group in Aldershot and lectures, strength and conditioning sessions and massage at St Mary’s, Twell has found a calm balance with impressive discipline most likely inherited from her army- engaged father.

Coached by Woods since the age of nine, the duo have established a formidable partnership and survived the recent deduction of a UK Endurance Centre at their base, unscathed and stronger:
“Mick’s more than just a coach to me; he’s helped me grow to the person and athlete I am. He inspires confidence in me and his heart goes into everything. He has such great attention to detail and consideration for his athletes,” Twell reveals.

Support network

“I have a great support network (at St Mary’s) that Mick and I have built so I feel stronger with a team that want to see me progress and who really do care. My course helps me to coach myself and is very practical, as it will hopefully lead to a career. The key is to be organised; I like to keep my training as rigid as possible – it never stops,” explained the Strength and Conditioning Science student.

“Everything’s easier to combine due to the superb facilities and having Mick there. It’s such a great training environment. I hope to train regularly with some Kenyans based in London (such as Linet Masai; the World 5,000m Champ) who Ricky manages, when I’ve graduated.”

Bright hopes

Receiving additional support from Lottery funding, the Ron Pickering Memorial Fund and the Barry Wells Sports Foundation, Twell – who wears a lucky London2012 pin every day - has bright hopes to live up to the media’s expectations.

“I try to take it all in my stride,” Twell explains. “It’s an honour for my performances to be recognised. Sometimes the media can be a distraction nearer to Championships but I like to share my joy of running and it’s a bonus to inspire people.

Twell is most certainly set for more inspiring performances this year and pinpoints the European Championships (Barcelona, July) and possibly the Commonwealth Games (New Delhi, October) as her major aims for the year. In the short-term however, Twell will head back to the international circuit in Italy later this month, before contesting for the English national and British university cross-country titles. A berth on the World cross-country team (Bydgoszcz, March) is the main aim for the winter as well as mastering her juggling act:

“I want to continue to enjoy my racing and balance everything well so I have no stress,” Twell explains. My future aims are to get physically and mentally stronger as an athlete and improve on my presence in Championship fields in the next two years, in the countdown to London 2012,” Twell revealed. “I really want to make the Great Britain 1500m team in 2012; my aspiration is a top-six placing, that would be wonderful.”

With such a vast amount of talent, discipline and determination, Twell may just well achieve that dream.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Going the Distance: Bekele and Dibaba


Ethiopian distance-running legends, ‘King’ Kenenisa Bekele and ‘the baby-faced destroyer’ Tirunesh Dibaba, spoke to Nicola Bamford about life as the World’s finest long-distance athletes and their goals to maintain a global grip on supremacy during 2010...

The pair; known for their shy and modest demeanours, opened up to your writer on the eve of last weekend’s BUPA Great Edinburgh international cross-country – an event each was hotly tipped to win.

Dibaba, 24, glided majestically to a comfortable win over a stellar field, whilst Bekele’s defeat by three Kenyans sent shockwaves throughout the sport. The 27-year-old had been unbeaten over the terrain in nine years; still, it would be foolish to think that the World will this year be deprived of the accustomed fireworks from this Ethiopian duo.

Bekele and Dibaba; with a collective total of 45 Olympic and World gold medals between them, are understandably familiar with the limelight. Bekele has held World records at 5,000m (12:37.35) and 10,000m (26:20.31) since 2004 and has held at least one Olympic or World title since 2001.

Dibaba’s athletic resume in turn, stands up strong against her African counterpart; with a global title each year since 2003, a World 5,000m track and 15km road record (14:11.15 and 46:28) and matches the 5,000m/10,000m double Olympic gold-medal-winning exploits of Bekele from the Beijing Games in the summer of 2008.

Family life

The pair originate from the town of Bekoji in the Oromia region of Ethiopia and hone their incredible endurance, speed and scintillating finishing kicks in and around Addis Ababa.
Inhabiting a plush hotel in the Scottish capital for their latest competition and pay-day, the King and Queen of the track are away from home during the Ethiopian celebration of Christmas; each athlete described their trip as an obligation to their career and hoped an impressive result at Holyrood Park would offer a gift to loved ones back home.

Family is evidently very important to the talented twosome. Bekele; a fan of Chelsea and Barcelona football clubs, recovered from losing his 18-year-old fiancée to a heart-attack on a training run together in 2005 to marry to a famous Ethiopian actress and have two young daughters. His younger brother, Tariku is the reigning World indoor 3,000m Champion and is sole, trusted training partner:

“He is a great runner and I think in the future he could be a great champion; maybe better than me. I enjoy training with him - he helps to push and motivate me,” Bekele explained of the confidant he once encountered a lion with during a run.

Dibaba meanwhile, is the fourth of six children and she too comes from a family of World-class athletes: “We are very lucky to be runners and to do so many things like train together,” she revealed.

The family link of talent does not stop there either, as Dibaba is married to 2004 and 2008 Olympic 10,000 meter silver-medalist, Sileshi Sihine and Derartu Tulu; the 2000 Olympic 10,000m Champion, is her cousin.

Hard work

Clearly genetics have played a part in the success of the duo but a vast amount of hard work hasn’t gone amiss either. Bekele trains around 100-miles per week, covering 12-15-miles each day over two sessions. Track and gym training in Addis and on the hills just outside of the area affectionately named ‘runner’s paradise’, Bekele is back to the day job following a four-month sabbatical after his eye-popping performances in the summer – a decision which led many to pinpoint as the reason for his down-fall in Edinburgh.

Dibaba on the other hand, took a shorter break which was evident in the World 15km road record she smashed in the Netherlands in November. Running since the age of 14, Dibaba; who is coached by her husband, revealed of her training:

“We don’t actually know how many miles or kilometres we run each week but we train for 90-minutes per day. We run a-lot in the forest and on the track three-times a week, and go in the gym a-lot, too.”

The pair name relaxing with their families and watching movies as their favourite ways to relax in their precious free time.

The ‘distance double’

The combination of inheriting superb genetics and willingly suffering from the tough daily grind has seen the duo achieve great things, and in particular, during the past two-years. Retaining his Olympic 10,000m title and upgrading his 2004 Athens 5,000m silver to gold, Bekele said of his sublime 2008 season:

“They were great times and achievements for me: it was fantastic to be the Olympic and World champion at the same time.”

Dibaba improved from Athens 5,000m bronze to also become victorious in ‘the distance double’ in China; achievements for which her club, the Prisons Police, bestowed the rank of Chief Superintendent for her services to club and country and the local hospital being named in her honour.

2009: Mixed fortunes

2009 brought mixed fortunes for the all-conquering pair, as Bekele replicated his double gold-medal-winning performances at the World Championships in Berlin; whilst Dibaba was reduced to a spectator role, following an untimely bout of illness; squashing her efforts for a fifth global title on the track.

Bekele’s achievements, although spectacular, did not however, capture the limelight as sprint sensation Usain Bolt; the Jamaican who took the 100m and 200m wins and World records, agreed; believing Bekele’s awesome talent did not receive the recognition it deserved due to his quieter personality.

“It doesn’t bother me,” Bekele insists, “Our distances are not the same and I do not mind.”

After additionally having to miss the chance to add a sixth World cross-country title to her belt in March through injury, luck was not on Dibaba’s side:

“Last year was not a good year for me, with missing the world cross and getting sick a month before Berlin. But I’ve come back to break the world 15km record and hopefully I will do the World cross-country Championships in March,” she explained.

The World record on the roads of Nijmegen two months ago represented Dibaba’s first race on the tarmac in five years and she paid the price for such a storming run; injuring her feet badly after ripping her shoes to shreds:

“I’m not 100% fully-recovered but I’m almost there. It was a great race for me; it showed I have a very great future on the roads,” she said.

2010 goals

Despite a major blip in the start to his competitive year, the self-coached Bekele remains confident of achievement remarkable things yet again in 2010. With no Championships for Ethiopians to contest, Bekele has set his sight on breaking two extremely tough World records on the track and taking the inaugural IAAF Diamond League series and prize-pot:

“My goals are to achieve many good results and this is a good year to break the World indoor 3,000m and World outdoor 5,000m records. I know it is not easy to break these, especially the 3,000m and the main thing for me is to stay healthy and do good performances,” he revealed.

The World will be eager to see whether Bekele achieves his first goal (the 3,000m record) in Birmingham next month and his rivals will be even keener to see what he can do, following recent proof that he is not invincible.

Two races that are uncertain for his schedule this year however, are the World cross-country Championships in March and a much-anticipated clash over 800m with Bolt:

“I’ve said before, I’ve achieved all I can at the World cross. I can’t say yet (whether to contest); I will decide with my family and manager. They give me advice – I have to listen to them. I would change my mind, though if it was introduced into the winter Olympics,” he said. “I never asked him (Bolt) officially to race me and I cannot say if I would beat him.”

Dibaba is equally determined for a show-stopping year:

“My plan is always to win and this year I plan to do a very good job with my performances. I will run indoors in Boston and attempt the 5,000m World record but will I not do the World indoor Championships. I will probably go for victory in the World cross (in Bydgoszcz, Poland),” she revealed.

Looking to the future

Following the same path in both his athletic and business career as his great predecessor, Haile Gebrselassie, Bekele is looking to the future by utilising his fame and wealth to build a hotel and training camp in Addis:

“I started my building a few months ago and it’s going well. I’m starting to think more about my training and after my career. I have taken advice from Haile and lots of business advisors,” he explained.

Dibaba, too expressed her interest in investing in some buildings in the future.

Bekele does however remain adamant not to bow to pressure to move up to the marathon yet in order to emulate Gebrselassie:

“I want to still enjoy the 3, 5 and 10,000m and have more achievements – it’s too early for me to start running marathons. I have enough time, you know. In the future maybe, but I can’t decide when yet,” he insisted.

No matter where fate decides to take these two remarkable athletes from now on, be assured that they will go the distance with phenomenal success.

Photos from Edinburgh

Monday, 11 January 2010

Ebuya: The modest prince who dethroned King Kenny


Ebuya: The modest prince who dethroned King Kenny

Two days ago a young, shy Kenyan annihilated arguably the World’s finest endurance runner to create shockwaves throughout the sport. This relatively un-heralded athlete destroyed ‘King’ Kenenisa Bekele by thirty-six seconds when storming to an unprecedented victory in the BUPA Great Edinburgh International cross-country: Joseph Ebuya had arrived on the 2010 scene with a bang.

The 22-year-old capped off a sterling 2009 with wins in the Yecla cross-country (Murcia, Dec 13) the Corrida de Houilles 10km (Paris, Dec 27) and the Amardora 10km in Lisbon on New Years’ Eve; yet despite beating some established performers, Ebuya had yet to shine in on the bigger international stage.

That was until however, the 27:33 10km runner decided to tear up the rule book and steal the show in the Scottish capital last weekend; becoming the first athlete since the great Haile Gebreselassie to beat eleven-time World cross-country Champion, Bekele in a cross-country race since 2001.

The race of his life

Gliding over the undulating course in freezing and slippery conditions to take the biggest scalp of all, the fearless African lead a Kenyan clean-sweep; with Olympic 5,000m runner-up, Eliud Kipchoge in third – the trio taking advantage of Bekele’s absence from competition since his superb double World Championship title-winning displays last summer.

Running the race of his life to break Bekele after just thirteen minutes over the 9km route and accompanied by his countryman, runner-up Titus Mbeshi; the World junior cross silver-medallist, until the final sprint, no-one was more shocked than the man himself;

“I was very happy to win the race – it is a good start to 2010 for me. Titus and I are training partners so we worked together well. He was very strong and constantly pushing the pace. We were surprised, as Bekele is normally very difficult to beat. I knew we had a good lead but I did not know I was going to win until I crossed the finish-line. From now on I think I like the snow.”

From humble beginnings

The exploits of the 7:34.62 and 12:51 three and 5,000m runner over the same course where he attained his first global senior performance of note – fourth place in the 2008 World cross-country Championships – have thrust Ebuya into the international limelight; showing a marked improvement since his thirteenth place in the World Championship 5,000m in Berlin last summer.

With the 2006 World junior 10,000m silver and 5,000m bronze, as well as fourth in the Commonwealth Games 5,000m that same year to his name, Ebuya has come a long way in only five years of serious training from humble beginnings. The Sammy Rono and Ricky Simms-coached athlete explained:

“I started running in 2004 by joining in with the PACE Sports Management runners when they went for morning runs. After a few months, they saw I had potential and invited me to come and live in their camp. I did not have money for food or running shoes so this was a big opportunity for me. Ricky brought me to Europe in 2005 for experience and I ran 13:03 in Holland in my second race, I think he was impressed.”

Ebuya; who names the Memorial van Damme track meeting in Brussels as his favourite event and Bekele as one of his heroes, never looked back; learning English and learning to read and write: “It was very difficult but I had good people to help and guide me – I have learned a lot in the last four years.”

Solid support network

His athletic career flourished at the same rate, with the two aforementioned World junior medals in 2006, followed by a sponsorship from Nike. Nyahurunu-born Ebuya; who now shares his time between Kaptagat in his home country and Teddington, London during the summer season, speaks highly of the man and solid support network that turned his life around and into a financially-deprived young boy World-class athlete:

“Ricky is the person who has helped me get to where I am now. He has taken me from having nothing to beating Bekele. He has high standards and has been telling me I can reach the top if I stay disciplined and train hard. We have a very strong team, with Usain Bolt (the Olympic and World 100m and 200m Champion and World record-holder) giving us inspiration to do well.”

Simms, in turn, has nothing but admiration for his protégé; “Joseph’s story would make a great movie one day – maybe if he wins the Olympics. Joseph was exceptional - he is one of the best examples of an athlete who had nothing. When we gave him his first shoes and track suit, he got injured immediately as he was not used to them. Running has given him a complete change of life. He has still a lot more to come if he can stay focussed and injury free.”

Army training to World XC gold?

With training partners such as World 10km record-holder, Micah Kogo and World Champion, Vivian Cheruiyot in the forty-strong squad, Ebuya trains two-to-three times per day. From a family of eight children, the long-distance specialist’s achievements are all the more impressive as he could not train for ten months from mid-2008 to early 2009 due to army training.

Following this sabbatical, Ebuya returned to athletics competition by posting an eye-catching 12:59 in Zurich and making the Kenyan World Championship team, after only three months of training; thus explaining his below-par position in Berlin last August.

“I am now training for the Armed Forces cross-country Championships,” Ebuya explained, “then I will compete in the Kenyan trials and the IAAF World cross-country Championships.” Following his remarkable breakthrough this year, the Premier League football enthusiast said: “I will try to win but it is a very tough competition.”

Regardless of the outcome of Ebuya’s efforts in Bydgoszsz, Poland this coming March, the man who dreams of winning the Olympics in London 2012 and is currently building a house, with hopes of running a business in Kenya after his athletic career; has progressed beyond his wildest dreams and he has done it all so unassumingly.

Nicola Bamford for the IAAF.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

King Kenny dethroned by Ebuya, business as usual for Dibaba


Edinburgh, UK (Jan 9) – The athletics world suffered shockwaves in the freezing snow of Holyrood park in the Scottish capital at the BUPA Great Edinburgh international, as ‘King’ Kenenisa Bekele was dethroned as the World’s finest distance man by Kenya’s Joseph Ebuya in shocking fashion, whilst distance queen Tirunesh Dibaba ran majestically to assert her dominance ahead of the World cross-country Championships in March.

Despite being off the racing circuit since his superb double World Championship title-winning displays last summer, Bekele appeared confident of adding a fourth victory to his resume of appearances in Edinburgh.

The 27-year old double Olympic and World champion was a warm favourite to triumph alongside Olympic 5,000m runner-up and 2005 victor here, Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya, following the last-minute withdrawal of his countryman, reigning World cross-country Champion; Gebre Gebremariam.

As unpredictable as whether some of the athletes would get into the city following the recent chaotic weather, two Kenyans; Joseph Ebuya and Titus Mbishei caused a huge surprise by breaking the eleven-time World cross-country Champion after just thirteen minutes in the 9km race.

The duo tore up the rule book to steal the show and produced a master-class of dominating teamwork to destroy a plethora of better-known world-class competitors.

Bekele was left trailing in their wake as Ebuya; 4th in the World cross in 2008 and Mbishei; the World junior cross runner-up, worked together in inseparable fashion. With an unassailable 100m lead over their better-known compatriot, Kipchoge and another 10m ahead of Bekele, they glided over the undulating course in testing conditions to take the biggest scalp of all.

With Ebuya running the race of his life, the fearless African effortlessly flew to a two-second win over his countryman; whilst Kipchoge finished in third.

Ebuya; the 2006 World junior 10,000m runner-up said of his surprise victory; “Bekele is very strong, as is Kipchoge so I’m hoping with sustained training back in Kenya I can get through the (Kenyan) trial (for the World cross). Today was a very good day for me; I prayed to Jesus. I hope he will help me to do well there.”

Despite appearing not to suffer in the conditions, Bekele looked deflated and despondent; never being able to match or catch the brave front runners.

Explaining how his journey to visit the London 2012 site, followed by encountering poor training conditions in Edinburgh for the four days prior to the event, Bekele said; “The weather was a bit difficult and being here so long before the race, I didn’t train well and missed some training. My training has been good but missing training isn’t good. I didn’t expect the weather to be like this; it was very new and strange for me. It was just not my day.”

Questions will now arise as to whether the great man will continue with his scheduled indoor record-breaking appearance attempts this season and even go back on his word to contest the global Championships in Poland later this winter, to exact revenge and rescue his reputation.


Comeback queen of the 2009/10 winter season, Hayley Yelling replicated the brave front-running tactics that saw her capture the European cross-country title last month by taking a sterling international field by the scruff of the neck from the gun.

The 35-year-old British maths teacher – only three months back into training following her competitive year-long retirement, bravely threw down the gauntlet to double Olympic Champion and four-time World cross-country Champion, Tirunesh Dibaba of Ethiopia over the 6km route.

The duo were joined by Kenyan World 5,000m Champion, Vivian Cheruiyot, Dibaba’s countrywoman, Kalkidan Gezahegn and Britons Steph Twell and Jess Sparke during the first half of the race in the Scottish capital.

Looking fluid and strong in her first competition since setting a new World 15km road record in November, Dibaba bided her time by sheltering in the pack for much of the race before stretching out from the bell to break away in her usual dominant fashion.

Chased by Cheruiyot, her main rival for the win and Gezahegn, the 24-year-old ‘Baby-faced destroyer’- as she is affectionately known in athletics circles - maintained her relentless rate and winning advantage until the finish, showing no signs of struggling in her debut race in snow.

With Ethiopians celebrating Christmas on January 7, when she was preparing for the race in Edinburgh away from her family, Dibaba gave herself the perfect festive gift by succeeding so superbly with a ten-second advantage.

Dibaba, who prevailed here in the 2005 event and later took the 2007 World title over the same course, said of her most recent fine display; “Running in the snow was difficult and it took my body time to get used to it. I did not want to take any chances so I made my move later on. I am very happy to win and will now go home to celebrate then do some indoor races before the World cross-country.”

Cheruiyot ensured an Ethiopian one-two did not materialise by defending a late lunge from Gezahegn, the World junior 1500m silver-medallist.

Early-leader, Yelling impressively maintained her prominent position in the chasing pack and pipped three-time European junior cross-country Champion, Twell for fourth position on the line.

Men - short-course

Mo Farah appeared determined to put a disappointing silver medal from the European cross-country Championships in Dublin last month behind him, as he established a comfortable lead from the gun and powered away to a ten-metre advantage for two of the three laps. Farah and fellow British duo, Steve Vernon and Ricky Stevenson coped best with the slippery underfoot conditions; leaving reigning 4km Champion Andy Baddeley – the Olympic 1500m 9th-placer trailing.

Biding their time shortly adrift until the final circuit, fellow British runners Steve Vernon and Ricky Stevenson convincingly broke the 2008 European Champion’s leading efforts to then create an impressive extension of the leading gap on the penultimate hill, before 21-year-old Stevenson - a specialist miler and 8th in the European under23 race in Dublin – sped to a scintillating finishing kick to capture a three-second surprise victory over Vernon and Farah, with Baddeley vanquishing in seventh.

Nicola Bamford for the IAAF

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Track bridesmaid turns bride


Track Bridesmaid Turns Bride

When her name is mentioned to your average sports enthusiast, they may think of her as the ‘nearly girl’ of the track, the unlucky athlete who just misses out on the medals in major championships time and time again and whose television appearances seem littered with rollercoaster emotions; but to the hard-core athletics aficionados, Lisa Dobriskey is no longer the bridesmaid of the track, writes Nicola Bamford.

Quickly establishing herself as a hot contender for world athletics’ leading lady over the metric mile, Dobriskey is now - quite literally - finally the bride; as the 26-year-old Loughborough-based 1500m specialist recently married (Athens 2000 GB 800m representative; Ricky Soos) and is set to capitalise on her superb World 1500m silver-medal-winning performance from last summer.

Married life

The speedy pair wed in Loughborough last month with their coach and training partners in attendance, and Dobriskey intends to retain her surname so as to “retain the family name until at least after 2012.”

Explaining that the Christmas period was merely a recuperation phase, the newly-wed; who combined her honeymoon in Italy with low-intensity training, continued: “the easier phase tied in perfectly. We went to Venice then Verona and then to Toronto in the mountains; though we both ended up with colds but it didn’t disrupt anything.”

Describing the relationship with the man she met whilst competing on the Great Britain junior team at the 2002 World junior Championships in Jamaica, Dobriskey explained: “We’re such opposites – I’m obsessive and he’s so chilled and laid-back. His relaxed attitude balances me out so it works well. Our days are busy with sessions, core, pre-hab and media engagements.”

Breakthrough year

Busy she must be, as the George Gandy-coached runner bounced back from a superb, yet devastating fourth-place finish in the 2008 Olympic final to construct a stunning 2009 campaign and breakthrough year. Battling through an injury-ravaged winter and spring with stress fractures, Dobriskey slowly regained her fitness and although she raced sparingly in lead-up to the Worlds, the Kent-born athlete shone in the Berlin final last August.

In a dramatic race shrouded with controversy, she was upgraded to the silver medal after Spanish athlete; Natalia Rodriguez was disqualified for blatant pushing at 200m to go in which the favourite for gold; Gelete Burka of Ethiopia was the victim of a fall. Dobriskey missed the victory and World title by a mere one-one-hundreth of second. Heart-breaking you may think but it has evidently made the Loughborough University graduate uber-confident and determined for more silverware.

The self-confessed worrier discussed her Berlin experience: “It was such an anti-climax, as the crowd were booing and I couldn’t do a lap of honour - I really wanted to, especially after Beijing. George and I were sat in the dining hall after the race, not knowing whether to be happy – it was so surreal and a flat feeling, as I didn’t know what colour medal I’d get.”

Too exhausted to celebrate her silver medal, Dobriskey continued: “It was such a long week of all the rounds so it was mentally tough to stay focused.”

The ‘new’ Lisa

Accused for making tactical misjudgements in the past, Dobriskey – who beat your writer into third (convincingly) in a regional university race back in 2004 - has; akin to her elegant running style, come on leaps and bounds since placing tenth in the 2007 World semi-final.

Perhaps the so-called ‘poor tactics’ was mere under-confidence – something the tall runner has certainly rectified, as Dobriskey capped off the year with a blistering 3:59.50 for the 1500m; placing her second on the UK All-Time lists behind former double-Olympic Champion; Dame Kelly Homes.

“To think how the year started, being all doom and gloom and depressing, it was a brilliant year,” said the evident ‘new’ Lisa. It was a stressful winter but I learnt you don’t have to train like a bull at the gate all the time. To run under four-minutes and get the silver was all to do with my confidence change; I was no longer scared of underperforming – I was more aggressive and believed I belonged there; I so desperately wanted a medal.”

With medals comes media attention, fame, fortune and pressure but Dobriskey “tries really hard to take things in my stride. I worry things will go wrong all the time so I don’t get too big for my boots. Sometimes successful athletes can forget the hard work that got them there. George keeps my feet on the ground so life hasn’t changed.”

Support network

Supporting her every step of the way, was Dobriskey’s coach and support network. On Gandy she explains: “He’s fantastic, I trust him so, so much, as he knows me so well – he really relates to me. He’s great at getting me to peak at the right time and we’ve got a really nice group of girls in the training group.”

Fortunately, their home training ground now doubles as the national performance centre for endurance; allowing regular access to top indoor alternate training facilities in order to steer clear of the injury plague which has so often blighted this talented runner in the past.

Bright future

With only the 2006 Commonwealth 1500m title under her belt, 2009 was truly the year which put the infectiously-outgoing runner on the global athletics map. Set for potential home-turf glory at the London 2012 Olympic Games, Dobriskey is evidently set for a bright future.

With a father – commuting from their family home in France - who works in health and safety on the 2012 site, the pressure to perform on the Olympic stage appears all-consuming: “I can’t say what will happen come London and potentially not being there frightens me so much. I daren’t say what my goal is, as I take nothing for granted, but I’d obviously love gold!”

Expectations in 2010

Feeling fit ahead of Saturday’s BUPA Great Edinburgh international cross-country, Dobriskey explained however that “it is just a fitness test to get me out of comfort zone.”

On the 6km over-distance race in the Scottish capital she continued: “I’m not quite in the shape I’d like to be in right now so the race will be a shock to the system, but I’m quite looking forward to it. I like to put an emphasis on progress in the winter.”

Steady progress she hopes will take her to more sublime performances on the indoor track at the Aviva Birmingham grand-prix and the Glasgow international later this month, followed by a potential tilt at the World indoor 3,000m title in March.

On the season ahead, Dobriskey revealed: “I’ll do the World indoors (in Doha) depending on what shape I’m in. George’s toying with the idea of more cross-countries, which I’m not thrilled about but I’ll do it.”

The summer will bring the European Championships in Barcelona and this is the event which provides the biggest aim for the 1500m-specialist: “It will be challenging as I’m no longer the underdog so there’ll be big expectations on me. We’re undecided whether to do the Commonwealths (in New Delhi) because it’s in October and it’ll be a long season, but another aim’s certainly to go under four-minutes more, to establish myself as a consistent performer and maybe break Kelly’s British record (3:57.90).”

Certainly many an athletics nut will put good money on Dobriskey receiving quite a few belated wedding gifts as she returns to competitive action this year, and the eventual Mrs Soos knows by now that gold is actually far nicer than silver.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Familiar faces mark their return in Edinburgh - preview


Familiar faces mark their return in Edinburgh – PREVIEW

Edinburgh, UK – ‘King’ Kenenisa Bekele and comeback queen, Hayley Yelling will be joined by Tirunesh Dibaba; the ‘baby-faced destroyer’ in Edinburgh’s Holyrood Park on Saturday (9) to take on the World’s best mud-larks in fierce battles for supremacy over a challenging course in the BUPA Great Edinburgh international cross-country.

Bekele will be determined to prove that his dominance over the distance elite has not lessened in his absence on the circuit since his superb double World Championship title-winning displays last summer, whilst Yelling will aspire to demonstrate her European cross-country Championship win last month - a year after her competitive retirement - was no fluke. Dibaba; unlike the two aforementioned familiar faces marking their returns, will be keen to capitalise on the scintillating form that saw her whisk to a World 15km Record in November, and will be eager to prevail over her African rival, Vivian Cheruiyot; the woman who took the World 5,000m crown last August that Dibaba would arguably have battled for had she not been on the injury sidelines.


Bekele; a former three-time winner of the event, will be making his fifth appearance in the Scottish capital and has spoken recently of his rejuvenation following the reunion with his exclusive training partner, his brother Tariku. With the younger Ethiopian back from a year-long injury spell, the 27-year-old Kenenisa has found additional motivation and love for his running but will be anxious about his comeback race.

Bekele’s countryman, the reigning World cross-country Champion; Gebre Gebremariam and Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge; the Olympic 5,000m runner-up and 2005 victor in Edinburgh, will provide stiff competition over the nine-kilometre race. Gebremariam has taken his first three races on the IAAF cross-country calendar; proving a distinct advantage for the 25-year-old. Eight-times European cross-country Champion; Sergiy Lebid – third in last month’s continental Championships – will lead the European challenge.

A domestic-based 4km short-course race will also feature on the day’s activities; with European cross-country silver-medallist, Mo Farah moving down in distance to take on the 2008 and 2009 winner, Andy Baddeley.


A clash with Dibaba over the 6km route will be a formidable test for the newly-crowned European Champion. The 35-year-old will be hoping the home-crowd support can spur her onto another surprise performance but the maths teacher will have two big guns to deal with amongst another stellar field.

Dibaba; the Olympic Champion over five and 10,000m, is a four-time World cross-country Championship winner and prevailed in Edinburgh during the spring of 2005 in this event and later took the 2007 World title over the same course. The 24-year-old will be tough to beat following her recent World Record on the roads but if anyone can stop her in her tracks, it will be Vivian Cheruiyot.

The graceful Kenyan is a former World junior cross-country gold-medallist and following her fine exploits last summer, will undoubtedly be a hot contender. The younger Dibaba; Genzebe, is fast-improving on the senior international scene and will certainly be one to watch at the head of the pack, as well as Scottish duo, Steph Twell and Freya Murray – the former making her Scottish debut on home soil. An intriguing entrant is the British World 1,500m silver-medallist, Lisa Dobriskey, who returns from a recent honeymoon in Italy.

Nicola Bamford for the IAAF

Monday, 4 January 2010

Doped athletes can run but they can't hide - Skysports blog


Countdown to 2012: Doped Athletes Can Run but They Can’t Hide

With just over two-and-a-half years to go until the London Olympic Games, the pressure is on for athletes to consistently perform on the world stage in the countdown and to not only ensure selection but to reach the medals podium in the greatest sporting show on earth. The demand to be at ones’ ultimate physical peak come the summer of 2012 is such that for many misguided fools, the temptation to cheat is too intense, and so to combat this powerful, deviant craving; a new, exciting national anti-drug agency has been established, writes Nicola Bamford.

Launched this January, UK Anti-Doping (UKAD) has announced that top British athletes could be tracked by private detectives and banned from their sport even if they have never failed a doping test; proving it’s no-nonsense crackdown on cheats.

Spearheaded by the former chief constable of North Yorkshire, David Kenworthy, UKAD will carry-out intensive testing across forty sports and encourage athletes to call a hotline if they suspect fellow competitors and coaches of wrong-doing.

Andy Parkinson, the UKAD chief executive said: “With 2012 around the corner, there will be pressure on young athletes not only to win medals but just to get to the start-line. We would be naive to think that no athletes will consider that option [drugs].”

With a full-time, seven-strong investigations team heading the inquiries, UKAD will utilise information from the police, medical authorities, customs officers and competitors. The long-overdue overhaul on doping in British sport will use a total of fifty staff, which will be funded by the taxpayer.

Describing the organisation as an ‘intelligence-led organisation that works with athletes and sports to develop and deliver education and information programmes,’ UKAD will partner the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) amongst others, to fight to clean up sport altogether.

In a first for British anti-doping, UKAD will also pursue traffickers and even hire private detectives at its’ discretion, as the nation seeks to prove it has one of the most rigorous programmes in international sport during the build-up to the 2012 Olympics.

The UK will now follow the lead of countries such as the US and Australia, where athletes have been suspended for 'non-analytical positives’ when sports performers have been found guilty by anti-doping panels after investigations.

Shocking evidence that sport needs more authorities like UKAD is the tale of Sydney 2000 multiple gold-medal-winning sprinter, Marion Jones. Jones successfully passed more than 160 drug tests during her ill-fated athletics career and fortunately, was eventually imprisoned for lying because of evidence discovered by detectives after the infamous BALCO scandal in 2003.

The Australian’s have found that after using the ‘non-analytical positives’ system for three years, 38% of bans have been prompted by such inquiries.

The work of UKAD in its’ inaugural year and in the countdown to 2012 will not only prove beneficial to sustaining clean, fair sport in the United Kingdom and keeping competitors in sound mind of being on an even playing-field, but it will also prove that doping athletes certainly can run but they almost certainly can’t hide for long.

Your writer – Nicola Bamford is a long-distance runner and sports journalist, who specialises in covering athletics and the Olympics. She has plied her trade writing for athletics magazines and the websites of national and international athletics governing bodies.

Olympic Stadium - Skysports blog


Countdown to 2012

Olympic Stadium makes progress...

With just over two-and-a-half years to go until London hosts the 2012 Olympic Games, SkySports Olympic blogger, Nicola Bamford reveals how the centre-piece of our sporting spectacular has successfully reached a significant landmark.

The ODA (Olympic Delivery Authority) – the public body responsible for developing and building the new venues and infrastructure for during and after the Games, announced the exciting news this week that the Olympic Stadium has welcomed a new cable net roof; ensuring that the Stadium project remains on target for completion by the summer of 2011 – and when the inevitable happens, everyone will keep dry.

Set to be covered with material in the spring of 2010, the roof will cover two-thirds of spectators and ODA Chairman John Armitt spoke of his delight:

“The successful lift of the Stadium’s cable roof is another milestone reached on the construction of this flagship venue. It has been a complex engineering and construction challenge, complicated by the wind and rain in recent weeks. We remain firmly on track and will lift the lighting towers into place early next year, taking the Stadium to its full height.

Good progress

“We continue to make good progress across the project, though there are still challenges ahead. The next year will be our toughest as the number of workers increases and activity on the Olympic Park reaches its peak so we cannot afford any complacency.”Following the phenomenal Bird’s Nest stadium in Beijing 2008, designed by our Chinese counterparts, the pressure is on to produce an incredible nucleus for sport in the British capital.

Lord Sebastian Coe, Chair of the London 2012 Organising Committee, said of the 80,000-seater stadium: “It is exciting to see so much progress being made on the Stadium and on all of the Olympic Park which is becoming reality, with a landscape that will transform east London at Games time and beyond.”

Construction of the Olympic Stadium began in May 2008 and progress to date includes:

· More than 4,500 reinforced concrete columns installed as the foundations.
· 12,000 pre-cast concrete terracing units installed for the seating.
· All five bridges in place, connecting the Stadium island to the rest of the Olympic Park.
· Fast progressions on the 700 rooms and spaces within the Stadium, including changing rooms and toilets.

Olympics Minister Tessa Jowell said: “Iconic venues such as the Stadium and the Aquatics Centre will come to symbolise London in 2012 and, thanks to the rapid progress of the build, they are already having a real impact on the London skyline.”

In 2010, a 650-tonne crane is set to be assembled in the middle of the Stadium site to lift the 28m-high lighting gantries onto the inner-ring of the cable net roof, taking them 60m above the field of play.

Providing sustainability

The Olympic Stadium will play host to the Opening and Closing Ceremonies and the Athletics action. With a capacity of 80,000 during the Games between July 27th and August 12th in 2012 and again a fortnight later during the Paralympic Games for two-weeks, the stadium seating will then be reduced to 25,000; providing manageable sustainability.

These 25,000 permanent seats will sit in the lower tier of the stadium, whilst a lightweight steel and concrete upper-tier, holding a further 55,000, will sit above. A 20m-high 'wrap' encircling the upper tier will ensure it can be easily dismantled after the Games.

Island life

The Olympic Stadium will be located in the south of the Olympic Park on an ‘island’ site, surrounded by waterways on three sides. Spectators will reach the venue via five bridges that link the site to the surrounding area. Sounds very glamorous. Spectator services, refreshments and merchandise outlets will be located outside the venue on a ‘podium’ that will surround the Stadium, rather than being located within the Stadium itself. Sounds annoying.

Several ‘test events’ will take place in the Stadium from 2010 in the count-down to the Games, many of which will be for school-children and those within the athletics community, but the real test for our new national stadium will be whether it can cope and impress during the Olympic Games itself.