Fionnuala McCormack misses out again as Africans dominate

Kenyan women competing for Turkey claim gold and silver as Irish runner comes fifth

Ireland’s Fionnuala McCormack competes during Sunday’s European Cross Country Championships in Chia, Italy. Photograph: Sasa Pahic Szabo/Inpho.

Ireland’s Fionnuala McCormack competes during Sunday’s European Cross Country Championships in Chia, Italy. Photograph: Sasa Pahic Szabo/Inpho.

 

Nationality cannot count for anything when the only link to that country is the financial incentive offered to represent it, and no athlete has lost more reward to that mockery of allegiance than Fionnuala McCormack.

For the third successive time on the European stage she was run off the medal podium by the uncomfortably conspicuous presence of African women – in this case two Kenyans who won gold and silver for Turkey, despite neither living nor ever even training there.

For a so-called European Cross Country it made for farcical viewing in Chia, Italy, as two Kenyans also proved runaway winners of the men’s race.

Such transfer of allegiance is ultimately decided by the IAAF, the governing body of world athletes, who four years ago amended their rules to essentially allow athletes swap countries on an apparent whim.

Indeed McCormack suggested as much after her fifth-place finish – in no way consoled by the fact had the two Kenyans not been there she would have made the medal podium as third best European.

Outright winner Yasemin Can also denied her a place on the medal last July when winning the European 10,000m, where McCormack finished fourth, and the Irish woman was also fourth in this race last year behind Ethiopian-born winner Sifan Hassan.

“I think you can write the script at this stage,” said McCormack, hardly disguising her discontent. “I’m a bit reluctant to say anything more about the Turkish situation. I don’t think it’s right, but it’s not just Kenyans moving to Turkey. I don’t think it’s right that people can just swap countries and change names just whenever they feel like it.

‘Top down’

“I don’t have a problem with particular people . . . I kind of do, because I know it’s part of their decision, and I don’t think that those decisions should be allowed. It’s not an individual athlete going from Kenya to Turkey, just for the craic, like. I think it’s from the top the changes need to be made. And like a lot of things in this sport, that problem comes from the top down.”

The IAAF have indicated they will revisit their rules on nationality – but again that’s no consolation to McCormack. At 32, she may not get many more chances to win back the title brilliantly secured in 2011 and again in 2012, especially given Can’s age, who only turned 20 on the day.

There was simply no stopping her, as she took off with team-mate Meryem Akda after just four minutes of running. Can, formerly Vivian Jemutai, only became eligible to compete for Turkey back in March.

Likewise with Akda, previously known as Mirriam Jepchirchir, who had run for Kenya as recently as May of last year.

Can took the outright win over the 8km course in 24:46 – 10 seconds ahead of Akda, with Karoline Grovdal from Norway edging away from McCormack on the last lap to claim bronze, 40 seconds behind. Ancuta Bobocel from Romania took fourth, just one second ahead McCormack.

“I didn’t come here to win a medal,” added McCormack “I came here to win, not just to be on the podium. And I really thought I was in shape to do it. I didn’t feel great on the first lap or so. But I didn’t panic. I just felt like I was never going away. I just had to stick to the plan. I knew Can and Grovdal were the big threats, but I didn’t really factor in Akda, the other Turk.

‘Some benefit’

“When those two (Can and Akda) took off, I knew it wasn’t great, that they would work together. That meant there was only one place up for grabs, really. I tried to break the other women, with 2km to go, but I just couldn’t do it. It was quite windy out there, and I was working as hard as I could off the front, but they were getting some benefit, from drafting, and I just couldn’t get away.”

No surprise then that Can and Akda helped Turkey also win the team race: the Irish women, who claimed bronze over the last two years, ended up sixth, losing ground on the last lap: Ciara Mageean was the next best placed in 31st, falling over the line in exhaustion such was the extent of her effort, with Michelle Finn 33rd, and Kerry O’Flaherty 54th.

Even as the two African women raced clear, McCormack was boldly determined to lead the chase: “It possibly made me want to win it even more. In the last few years, I don’t think I was in my best shape, and chased the race a bit, but this year I was, and wanted to race it, not just to be in it. It’s not the way I wanted my year to end, to be honest. So in that sense it’s probably my worst race of the year.”

There was a grim rerun of that Turkish affair in the senior men’s race, also dominated by two Kenyans, Aras Kaya and Polat Kemboi Arikan. Kaya (Not be confused with Ali Kaya, last year’s winner also formerly from Kenya.) won out by three seconds, with Paul Pollock best of the Irish in 36th.

There was at least a hugely encouraging Irish run from Jack O’Leary, who finished an excellent sixth in the junior men’s race, having pressed for a medal throughout.

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