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African dominance boring, say top duo

African dominance boring, say top duo
By Reuters

05/03/2006 at 16:21Updated

The near total domination of distance running in athletics by Kenya and Ethiopia threatens to kill off interest in the sport altogether, two of the world's top distance runners have said.

Kenya's world marathon record holder Paul Tergat and Ethiopia's Haile Gebrselassie, told Reuters in an interview that distance running in athletics, still regarded as the top sport at the Olympics, was fast losing popularity.

"The world has lost interest in distance races like 5,000 metres, 10,000 metres and even cross-country because they are regarded as competition between Kenyan and Ethiopian athletes," 37-year old Tergat said.

Gebrselassie, who won 10,000 metres gold at the 1996 Atlanta and 2000 Sydney Olympics and holds four world titles, was in Nairobi as a special guest at the Sports Personality of the Year awards ceremony organised by Tergat.

"We need something unique like the two-horse 150 metre race between Canada's Donovan Bailey and American Michael Johnson in the U.S. a few years ago," he said.

He felt that introducing a sense of show business into the sport could rekindle interest.

"Watching the same things every time can be boring, hence new, radical ideas are necessary for the sport to be more attractive," he said.

But the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) said efforts to make running more entertaining should not come at the expense of standards.

"We are not the circus," said IAAF spokesman Nick Davies. "It is important to make sure that the core elements of sport are respected before we abandon ourselves to the demands of show business."

He cited the Golden League, which combines top sporting talent with music and fireworks displays, as a good example of a package that is both sport and entertainment.

"It is true that the men's distance running scene is dominated by Africans. The IAAF's answer to this is to encourage the others to improve their standards," he said.

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