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 Two runners exchange blows in the last stretch
March 22, 2011 01h45AM {data}2011-03-22{/data}{hora}01:45{/hora}

Marga earns the title of a race marred by a fight between contenders.. Photo: AFP

Marga earns the title of a race marred by a fight between contenders.
Photo: AFP

The heated fight between Eritrea's Samuel Tsegay and Ethiopia's Abera Kuma in the last stretch of a race in Spain has made a counter argument to Europe's increasing lack of interest in cross-country world championships.

On Sunday, fans at the Antonio Hernández Gil multi-sport stadium in Punta Umbria, watched with both amusement and skepticism, the exchange of blows between the two athletes. Tsegay and Kuma, who ranked 5th and 16th respectively in the last championships, were disqualified. Both athletes had some troubles over 11.900 meter distance. But their rivalry, and maybe the traditional enmity between their countries, came to the boiling point when they went into a 100 meters sprint to the finishing line.

The athletes fell to the ground. Tsegay grabbed Kuma's right leg and tried to punch him but he could not reach his target even though Kuma was only centimeters away. It then appeared that the runners remembered they were in front of the public and they rejoined the race and finished the last ten meters.

According to the Eritrea team version, Tsegay claims Kuma nudged him and deliberately pulled off his (Tsegay's) sneaker when he was behind him to stop Tsegay from running at maximum speed. The Ethiopian side has not shared its version. Ethiopia and Eritrea share a common border and sometimes are at war.

There are many opinions about the incident, a lot of which are ironic. Some fans remember that in 1992, Ethiopi's Haile Selassie was attacked by a Kenyan athlete in the final stretch.

Other fans wonder to what extent the IAAF will take these eye-catching incidents in cross-country championships and suggest the creation of a new event: Cross Country Boxing.

Africa's superiority in international cross-country championships is so overwhelming that people in the athletics world say that the fight between Tsegay and Kuma is the most interest thing that happened in these contests in the last ten years.

Amid the jokes, the Punta Umbría championships confirmed that while Africans (and not only these two 'boxers') are ready to fight to win medals, Europe increasingly is having less interest in a sport that was dubbed "traditionally costumed street marching" 20 years ago.

Only Spain and Great Britain entered complete teams in the four races (two seniors and two juniors).

Morocco-born Ayad Lamdassem, the best European runner who competes for Spain, finished 16th. However, his performance has been outstanding, considering the current conditions and the fact that there are only six athletes per country. Spain defeated Portugal by only one point, but even so it ranked 8th.

In the women's race, the outlook doesn't change the European standings because Great Britain's best runner, Charlotte Purdue, finished 14th. Nuria Fernández, the best Spanish athlete, finished 24th. Their placing shows their attempts to challenge African power in the sport.

Shalane Flanagan, the 2008 Olympics bronze woman's medalist from the USA, had shown that there is room for non-African long distance runners on the 10.000 meter event podium. Flanagan has marked the way to follow to her European counterparts. She finished third at the 2011 cross-country championships.

The IAAF has confirmed that the cross-country championships are becoming less and less interesting for Europe each year. Europe contributes the biggest amount of funds to the world athletics budget and gives financial support to countries that bid to host these events. Therefore, it has decided that the championships will be held every two years from now.

Punta Umbría won the rights to host the cross-country championships when it also bid for the half-marathon. In view of the lack of a large audience, in 2013 the competition will probably go back to the 2010 venue at Bydgoszcz (Poland).

Last Saturday, the Spanish Federation President, José María Odriozola, publicly asked Europe not to give up. He encouraged athletes to participate in the world championships.

EFE
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