Drama at the World Cross Country Championships (WCCC)

The 44th WCCC in Bathurst, NSW will be an event for discussion for athletic lovers for some time due to so many dramas that unfolded on the day. World’s top professional athletes echoed about how brutal the race course was.

Despite the looming wild weather, our athletes were determined to go out and give their best. Fiji’s Team Officials are extremely happy on how our young athletes conducted themselves on and off the field.

Coming in 15th Place in the Mixed Team’s Relay event, Ama Masau who anchored the relay said, “I really enjoyed this life time experience and to feel how fast the world’s top runners are. We ran as a team and am very pleased with what we have achieved. While talking to these athletes off the field, they are just like us but they are professional athletes who train at high intensity”.

Soon after the Mixed Relay race finished, officials started pushing things after visible signs of a storm was beginning to be noticed.

In the next race, Akeneta Lutu (Under 20 Women) had a fall on the slippery hill on her first lap. As she got up from the fall, the officials wanted to call the Ambulance. 16-year old Akeneta insisted that she would continue as she wanted to finish her run, despite being in pain. However, she was shown the finish line by the race officials as she completed her second lap with one lap to go. The race officials were clearly under instructions to cut short the races with several runners still on the course, so that they could bring forward the final Senior Men’s race, at the expense of runners not finishing.

Similar thing happened with the Open Women’s 10K as some runners were just removed from the course with officials not allowing them to finish their race with even less than one kilometre left to go.

The harsh weather conditions forced Letesenbet Gidey, the current World Record Holder, to collapse just 30 meters from the finish line after leading at the final home stretch. An Ethiopian supporter jumped the fence and dashed across the course to assist Gidey. The Ethiopian athlete was later disqualified for outside assistance. This brought back memories of the finish of 3,000m from the 1979 South Pacific Games, in Suva, when Fiji’s Rusila Radinibeqa was disqualified when she was helped in the final few metres by a Fiji official, when she was leading the race with the race awarded to Betty Bopart of Guam.

The final race, Open Men’s 10km, was brought forward by 20 minutes, with lightning and thunder storm approaching. The run started well for Fiji, with all Fiji runners starting conservatively, and not getting sucked in with the fast World Class runners.

Drama started at the fifth and final lap. Jeremiah who was only a minute behind Evueli Toia at the interchange, was forced off the race course by the race officials while he was on the final lap of the 5th lap race. The officials tried to stop the runners as they were concerned for the safety of the runners. Attempts by the officials to do the same with Pramesh Prasad and Ben Ashe failed as the two runners insisted on finishing the run. Fortunately, the duo finished their race minutes before the storm hit Mt Panorama race course.

The race organizers have promised to provide placings for these runners as they were also scoring points for individual and the Team Events but had to be pulled out for their safety as the weather was really getting bad. The results showing DNF will be amended by the LOC upon discussion with Athletics Australian and World Athletics.

There has been a lot of learning for all athletes and officials likewise from this WCCC, with the safety of the athlete being paramount.

Team Fiji was fortunate to have two top sub 29min 10K runners as Fiji Team’s liaison officers. Joshua Maisey (from NZ) and Mathew Johnson (Melbourne) shared their experience and helped out with the Teams protocols.

Our main purpose for participation was to give our young talented runners a life time experience, motivate others that love running to become a more serious runners and revive the new generation of middle and long distance runners as we focus towards our 2023 Pacific Games. All the athletes have worked very well together in a positive team environment and are focused as the new crop of competitive distance runners for Fiji.

Cross Country racing is now included in the Athletics program at the Olympic Games. Our natural environment can provide the best training ground for our athletes. I hope the upcoming Fiji National Sports Commission Sports conference will have much more to offer for all athletes.

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