Uganda's Thomas Ayeko (© AFP / Getty Images)
The Ugandan pair of Thomas Ayeko and Joel Ayeko head the cast at the 67th Cross Internacional Zornotza – the second Gold standard meeting in the World Athletics Cross Country Tour – in Amorebieta, Spain, on Sunday (24).
They both placed in the top 10 at the last World Athletics Cross Country Championships, held in Aarhus in 2019. While 29-year-old Thomas finished seventh, his compatriot came 10th in arguably the best performances of their respective careers so far.
However, they have raced sparingly since then as Thomas, the 2011 world U20 cross country silver medallist, competed just once in 2020 with a fine win at a cross country contest in Caceres, while for Joel the Cross Internacional Zornotza will be his first competition in almost two years.
Thomas Ayeko took top spot in Amorebieta back in 2016 and should be the man to beat over this weekend’s 10,700m contest.
Eritrea’s top steeplechaser Yemane Hailesilassie could be the Ugandan’s toughest opponent. The 23-year-old is based in Madrid, where he trains under the guidance of Jeronimo Bravo. Hailesilassie was a creditable fifth in his specialist event at the Tokyo Olympics and holds a 8:11:22 lifetime best for the event. More recently he has lined up at several mile races on Spanish soil, bagging a second place in Madrid behind Spain’s 800m record-holder Saul Ordonez on 3 October.
His compatriot Awet Habte will likely be in the fight for the podium spots as he is fresh from a 1:02:11 career best at the Lisbon Half Marathon barely one week ago. Burundi’s Onesphore Nzikwinkunda, a 1:01:48 half marathon performer, completes the African contingent.
Spain’s Ouassim Oumaiz leads the local challenge. The 22-year-old won the Cross Internacional de Atapuerca in 2019 against some of the most prominent distance runners and he will be eager to bounce back.
The women’s 6700m contest features Uganda’s Sarah Chelangat and Eritrea’s Dolshi Tesfu. The former came fourth at the 2018 World U20 Championships over 5000m and holds national records for the 5000m (15:00.61) and 10,000m (31:06.46). As for Tesfu, the 22-year-old finished 15th at the Tokyo Olympics over 10,000m and set a lifetime best of 1:10:59 for the half marathon last Sunday in Lisbon where she was runner-up.
Amorebieta hosted the World Cross Country Championships back in 1993. That year the victors were Kenya’s William Sigei and Portugal’s Albertina Dias, while a little-known legend-to-be, Britain’s former world marathon record-holder Paula Radcliffe, placed 18th as a 19-year-old in her international senior debut.
The list of illustrious past winners in Amorebieta includes Tim Hutchings (1989), Paulo Guerra (1995), Serhiy Lebid (2009) and Joseph Ebuya (2011 and 2012) in the men’s event and Rosa Mota (1986), Derartu Tulu (1996), Gete Wami (1999 and 2000), Vivian Cheruiyot (2007 and 2008) and Linet Masai (2009) in the women's event.
Weather forecasters predict a sunny windless day and a 18ºC temperature at the time of the event on Sunday.
Emeterio Valiente for World Athletics