Hellen Obiri wins the Campaccio women's race (© Giancarlo Colombo)
Two highly anticipated duels between some of the world’s greatest distance runners will highlight the Cross Internacional Juan Muguerza, the fifth leg of the IAAF Cross Country Permit series in the Spanish town of Elgoibar on Sunday (13).
At a press conference on Wednesday, elite race manager Zigor Díez announced the names of the athletes in contention. As is often the case in Elgoibar, world-class podiums are guaranteed given the quality line-ups of both the men’s and women’s contests.
The standout athlete on show will be Ethiopia’s rising star Selemon Barega who will be defending his title. After his emphatic victory last year over fellow teenager Jacob Kiplimo of Uganda, Barega went on to take the 3000m silver medal at the IAAF World Indoor Championships Birmingham 2018.
He ended his track season at the IAAF Diamond League final in Brussels where he won the 5000m in a world U20 record of 12:43:02, moving to fourth on the world all-time list.
Elgoibar’s 10.8km race will be Barega’s second outing of 2019 as he raced last Sunday in San Giorgio Su Legnano where he was defeated by his compatriot Hagos Gebrhiwet after overcoming some problems at the start when his shoelace came undone.
Barega, whose victory in Elgoibar last year became the subject of Felix Sanchez Arrazola’s photo that won the ‘IAAF Photograph of the Year’ award, will have the hard task of beating Kenya’s world U20 10,000m champion Rhonex Kipruto.
The 19-year-old clocked 27:21:09 to take the title in Tampere and boasts an even more impressive 10km performance on the road as he clocked 26:46 in Prague last September to get within two seconds of the world record. More recently, Kipruto has been successful at two cross-country races in Kenya.
Kipruto and Barega, both of whom featured in the IAAF’s recent ‘Gen 10’ series of rising talents, have never raced one another before. Barega comes from a track background while Kipruto appears better suited to the roads, so cross country will be a neutral surface for what could be their first clash of many.
But they aren’t the only teenage talents in Elgoibar as they will be joined by Kenya’s Stanley Mburu Waithaka, who took 5000m silver at the World U20 Championships, finishing two places ahead of Barega.
The 18-year-old is fresh from a narrow win over Uganda’s Oscar Chelimo in Amorebieta last Sunday. His most recent performance before that was a world-leading 27:13:01 over 10,000m in November.
Spanish hopes for a top-five spot rest on 2016 European 10,000m bronze medallist Toni Abadía, 2:08:36 marathon runner Javier Guerra and European steeplechase silver medallist Fernando Carro.
Obiri faces Chepkoech and Can
World 5000m champion Hellen Obiri is the marquee athlete in the women’s 7.7km race. The Kenyan underlined her current form in Madrid on 31 December when clocking 29:59 on the slightly downhill San Silvestre Vallecana 10km course.
The 29-year-old will face stiff opposition from compatriot Beatrice Chepkoech, who broke the world steeplechase record last year with her 8:44:32 clocking in Monaco.
Chepkoech is also an accomplished athlete in flat events as she proved at last April’s Commonwealth Games when the 27-year-old landed the 1500m silver medal in an outdoor PB of 4:03:09. She anchored Kenya to gold in the mixed relay at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships Kampala 2017 but is generally less experienced at cross country than Obiri and is yet to beat her compatriot in their seven career outings against one another on the track.
The main danger to both women could come from 2016 European 5000m and 10,000m champion Yasemin Can. The 22-year-old Turk is fresh from a convincing victory at the IAAF Cross Country Permit meeting in San Giorgio Su Legnano last Sunday and recently won her third successive European cross-country title.
Watch out too for Uganda’s Commonwealth 10,000m champion Stella Chesang. The 22-year-old last raced at the Zevenheuvelenloop 15km race in Nijmegen in November where she won in 47:19.
In addition to the elite events, there will be a strong junior race with representatives from Belgium, France and Great Britain in the fight for the Mamo Wolde prize, an award created in 2003 in memory of Ethiopia’s legendary two-time Olympic marathon champion. He is fondly remembered in Elgoibar after winning in 1963, 1964, 1967 and 1968.
Weather forecasters predict a rainy day with temperatures ranging between 8-10C at the time of the event.
Emeterio Valiente for the IAAF