Thomas Ayeko winning at the IAAF Antrim International Cross Country 2013 (© Mark Shearman)
Former champions Thomas Ayeko and Stephanie Twell return to Greenmount in a bid to regain their titles at the IAAF Antrim Cross Country International, the last of this winter’s IAAF Cross Country Permit meetings, on Saturday (14).
Ayeko famously ended Kenya’s Mike Kigen’s three-year winning streak in the senior men’s race in 2013, coming home a massive 37 seconds clear of the rest of the field over the 10km course on that occasion.
The Ugandan will be confident of regaining his title in Northern Ireland, especially as last year’s winner and 2013 IAAF World Cross Country Championships gold medallist Japhet Korir is unable to take part.
Korir beat Ayeko by just two seconds 12 months ago, but the Kenyan has decided to skip competing in Greenmount this time around in order to continue training as he prepares to defend his title in two weeks’ time.
Ayeko's main threat is likely to be the two-time former world 3000m steeplechase junior champion Jonathan Ndiku, of Kenya, who won at the high-quality Fukuoka cross country meeting in Japan last month.
Two potential contenders for the win will Ethiopia’s Tsedat Abeje, better known as a road runner, and Kenya’s experienced 2008 Olympic Games 5000m bronze medallist Edwin Soi.
Twell, now 25, won the women’s race back in 2009 as a 19 year old.
Now fulfilling her youthful promise after several years recovering from a badly broken ankle in February 2011, Twell was seventh at the last European Cross Country Championships in December, forming part of Great Britain’s winning team.
She also got fourth place in a high quality race at the European Champion Clubs Cup Cross Country last month.
The main challenge to Twell in the women's 7.2km race will come from Ethiopian pair of Birtukan Fente Alemu and Birtukan Adamu, the latter an African 3000m steeplechase junior champion and who finished third last month in her compatriot Genzebe Dibaba’s world record run over 5000m indoors in Stockholm.
This year, the Antrim meeting has moved from its traditional early January slot, with the weather traditionally biting cold and conditions very muddy underfoot, to a milder mid-March slot as part of the St Patrick’s weekend, with the well-known Irish annual national holiday next Tuesday.
It is the 11th and final meeting in the 2014-15 IAAF Cross Country Permit series and a prelude to the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Guiyang, China, on 28 March.
Coilin Duffy for the IAAF