Russians looking for a revival
Four pre-selected members of the Russian women’s team going to the SPAR European Cross Country Championships were part of the squad that finished third at the prestigious Chiba Ekiden in Japan on 23 November, coming home as the leading European team in the famous international road relay.
Lilia Shobukhova will head the Russian team in Tilburg and she will be looking to improve on her below par 11th place of 12 months ago in Heringsdorf, when she struggled in the mud.
The prospect of a flatter and firmer course in the Netherlands will encourage Shobukhova, who demonstrated her desire for the big occasion on the track when she finished ninth in the 5000m at the 2005 World Championships in a personal best of 14:14.07, crossing the line as the leading European.
Inga Abitova, fourth in the 2001 SPAR European Cross Country Championships junior women’s race, and Maria Konovolova cannot claim the same credentials as Shobukhova but the pair achieved outstanding performances in Chiba – Konovolova being the fastest on the final leg – to confirm the Russian federation’s feeling that the pair have wintered well.
Completing the pre-selected quartet is Viktoriya Klimina, a sub-32 minute performer over 10000m on the track last summer.
The remainder of the women’s team will be chosen after trials at the Russian federation’s training centre at Kislovodsk, which lies at 1000m altitude in the north Caucaus mountains near Grozny.
The big question is whether it will include 2002 SPAR European Cross Country Championships Silver medallist Galina Bogomolova, a Beloretsk Army Club team colleague of Shobukhova. She matched Shobukhova’s feat of being the leading European home in her event in Helsinki when she finished eighth in the World Championships 10000m in the summer and is one of the favourites for a medal over 25 laps of the track at the European Athletics Championships in Gothenburg.
Russia keen to emulate Soviet era success
Yevgeniy Rybakov occupies a special place in the annals of Russian cross country running as he was the first person from his country, man or women of any age, to win an individual Gold medal at the SPAR European Cross Country Championships.
He followed up his memorable win in the 2002 junior men’s race as a 17-year-old, when he was closely followed home by his twin brother Anatoliy, with another victory the following year.
Yevgeniy completed his career in the junior ranks with a Silver medal in 2004 and now he is looking to carry on his revolution of Russian men’s distance running, hoping to consign to history the fact that no Russian senior man has won a medal at the SPAR European Cross Country Championships.
Neither has a Russian woman ever won an individual world or European cross country title but during the Soviet era they were always to the fore.
In the 16 championships between 1976 and 1991, the last year that the Soviet Union entered the World Cross Country Championships, half the women’s team Gold medals had the initials USSR stamped on them and Silver medals were won on four other occasions, with Russians being key members of that era’s teams.
Now, after more than a decade in decline punctuated only by team wins at the SPAR European Cross Country Championships in 1995 and 2002, Russia’s women are on the rise again.
Transition year for Yevgeniy Rybakov
However, for Yevgeniy Rybakov, moving into the senior ranks will bring added expectation following his prowess in the junior event, and he acknowledges that it may take a year or two to reach the podium.
“This is a transition year, and it’s going to be a tough year internationally,” admitted Yevgeniy, 20, after winning the European Under 23 10,000m title on the track in the summer.
Anatoliy Rybakov, who won the European Under 23 5000m title in Erfurt, is also at the vanguard of the new generation of Russian men’s distance runners.
The pair deliberately avoided running against each other in Erfurt, even if some observers in the German city had to look hard to make sure they were not seeing double when they were out training together. The brothers, however, did both go to Chiba and Anatoliy will also be in Tilburg.
Also pre-selected for Tilburg, and preparing for his fifth appearance at the championships by running on the road in Chiba, is the reigning Russian cross country champion Dimitri Maksimov.
The trio formed half of the Russian team that set a European record of 2 hours 2 minutes 34 seconds for the Ekiden, albeit a rarely run event outside of Asia, when finishing fifth in Chiba.
(EAA Media Service - 25.11.2005)