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Hissou aims to transfer track success to the grass

March 22, 1997

TURIN, Italy (AP) _ Two years ago, Salah Hissou finished third in the World Cross Country Championships. Last year, he was second. On Sunday, the track star will be looking to continue the progression.

The world record-holder for 10,000 meters on the track has been training at high altitude in his native Morocco to prepare for the move to the grass.

``I felt the need to go after a significant result,″ Hissou said. ``I’m tired of watching others win.″

Hissou could be helped by what appears to be a fast course. The mostly flat 1.25-mile route is made up of slabs of grass laid atop asphalt in the Parco del Valentino, located in the center of this industrial city.

``It was not easy to put the course downtown,″ International Amateur Athletic Federation president Primo Nebiolo said Saturday. ``We had quite a political fight with environmentalists. The World Championships have always been held out of the city limits.″

In another effort to boost the sport’s profile, Nebiolo said that he’s proposed that the worlds be extended to a two-day meet by adding two short-course cross country races.

``I’m always trying to put athletics in the spotlight,″ Nebiolo said. ``My goal is to get attention, to get spectators.″

He said he wants to hold the junior women’s race, followed by men’s and women’s short-course senior races, on the first day. The second would have the junior men’s race, followed by the full-length senior races.

Nebiolo said it’s possible some athletes would participate in both the short- and full-length senior races.

The proposal will be considered by the IAAF’s cross country commission when it meets Monday. Details such as distances for the short-course races would have to be worked out.

Hissou was a bronze medalist at the 1996 Olympics in the 10,000 meters, won by Haile Gebrselassie. But he took the Ethiopian’s world record for the distance when he was timed in 26 minutes, 38.08 seconds, at Brussels Aug. 23.

If Hissou is going to add the cross country crown to his resume, he’ll need help from his teammates. Ismail Sghir, second in the 3,000 meters at the World Indoor Championships in Paris this month, will provide support.

They’ll have to fend off the very deep Kenyan team, owner of 11 straight men’s team titles and nine individual crowns over that span. The Kenyans, led by two-time defending champion Paul Tergat, are not going to make it easy for Hissou. They’ll likely try to bunch runners around him.

Tergat named Hissou as one of his chief adversaries, along with fellow Kenyans Thomas Nyariki, Shem Kororia and Paul Koech. Koech has beaten Tergat three times this year.

``I’m no longer the Tergat of a month ago, when I had several problems,″ the favorite said. ``Right now, I’m in great shape and hope to win a third world title. I’ve been training well the last month and re-found my form.″

Ethiopia’s Gete Wami will defend the women’s title Sunday. Another Ethiopian, Derartu Tulu, the 1995 champion, could provide the stiffest challenge.

Wami must also watch Kenya’s Naomi Mugo, third a year ago, and Romania’s Elena Fidatov, who has won six IAAF Challenge races since January. Wami was second in three of those races.

The field also includes Irish runners Sonia O’Sullivan, the world 5,000-meter champion, and Catherina McKiernan, who was second at the cross country worlds four straight years from 1992-95 but faded to 13th last year.

South Africa’s Zola Pieterse _ the former Zola Budd _ who won the cross-country title in 1984 and 1985, when she ran for Britain, also is competing.

For the first time, the IAAF will pay prize money to the top finishers. First-place is worth $40,000.

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