Previews24 Nov 2023

Kwizera and Amebaw the athletes to beat in Alcobendas


Likina Amebaw celebrates her win at the 2023 Cross Internacional Zornotza (© Asociacion ADOC)

Burundi’s Rodrigue Kwizera and Ethiopia's Likina Amebaw are the star names at the Cross Internacional de la Constitucion, the sixth Gold level event in this season’s World Athletics Cross Country Tour, to be held in Alcobendas on the outskirts of Madrid on Sunday (26).

Kwizera kicked off his cross country campaign with a third-place finish in Atapuerca against a mouth-watering field and the 23-year-old maintained the momentum with another third place in Seville two weeks later. Last year’s World Athletics Cross Country Tour victor was eager to triumph for the first time this season and he managed to do so in Soria last weekend after a thrilling final sprint with Kenya's Hillary Chepkwony.

The Castellon-based ace reached the finish line unchallenged at the past two editions of this race but he was disqualified in 2021 for not wearing the vest of his Spanish club, Playas de Castellon. He made amends last year with a commanding win.

Kwizera's fiercest opponent should be Martin Kiprotich as the 22-year-old Ugandan has shown great fitness, firstly in Seville where he came sixth, 20 seconds behind the Burundian, and also in Soria last Sunday when he fought for the win until the closing stages to finally finish fourth, some four seconds adrift of Kwizera.

Eritrea's Filmon Kibrom should also be in the hunt for victory. He showed that intent in Soria where the 20-year-old achieved arguably his finest ever race to take fifth place, seven seconds behind Kwizera. Having placed fourth in Amorebieta last month, Kibrom will be eager to claim his first podium place on the international senior scene and he will be joined by the much more experienced Aron Kifle, who is still rounding into form following a long halt due to an injury.

Watch out too for Celestin Ndikumana. The Burundian opened the cross country season in style with a convincing win in Amorebieta and he went on to finish fourth in Atapuerca the following week. However, the 21-year-old couldn't go beyond 13th place in Soria and will try to bounce back in Alcobendas.

With many of Spain’s top distance runners preparing for the European Cross Country Championships on 10 December, Sergio Paniagua looks to be the best local hope. The 28-year-old has shown great consistency this season, with four top-10 finishes in Amorebieta, Atapuerca, Seville and Soria. Paniagua came second last year and will fight hard to manage another podium place over the 10,060m circuit in front of his home crowd.

Amebaw and Ayichew clash again

The women's 8040m race witnesses a rematch between Amebaw and Asayech Ayichew. The Ethiopian athletes battled hard for the victory last weekend in Soria, with the win eventually going to the former after a close sprint finish.

Amebaw has raced four times this cross country season with three podium places to her name in Amoberieta and Soria, where she won, plus her Cardiff runner-up spot. The Spain-based athlete will turn 26 years of age next week and will compete in Alcobendas fully recovered from the fever she suffered just before the Soria event. Having enjoyed an average training week at the altitude (1350m) of her base in Peguerinos (Avila), she will hope to be successful again on Sunday to improve on her 2021 third place.

As for Ayichew, the relatively unheralded Ethiopian will try to prove that her brilliant performance in Soria was no fluke.

Both will have stiff opposition provided by Kenya's defending champion Lucy Mawia. Last season's Cross Country Tour winner will aim to retain her 2022 title after being unable to finish in Soria last Sunday when she dropped out the race before reaching the closing kilometre.

The European response will come from Italy's Nadia Battocletti, the multiple European cross country medallist who finished fifth in the 5km at last month's World Road Running Championships in Riga. The Italian will run in the company of her compatriot Anna Arnaudo, the 23-year-old 32:09.54 10,000m performer, while France's Alessia Zarbo completes the international line-up.

Notable past winners here include Eritrea's former world half marathon record-holder Zersenay Tadese (2005), Kenya’s Joseph Ebuya (2007 and 2010), Ethiopia’s former world marathon champion Tamirat Tola (2015), Uganda’s world half marathon record-holder Jacob Kiplimo (2018), Portugal's 1993 world cross country champion Albertina Dias (1996), Ethiopia's Meselech Melkamu (2005 and 2006), Kenya’s Vivian Cheruiyot (2009) and her compatriot Linet Masai (2008 and 2015).

Weather forecasters predict a sunny and windless day on Sunday with temperatures ranging between 12-14°C.

Emeterio Valiente for World Athletics

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