Previews06 Jan 2023

Star-studded line-ups ready to clash in Elgoibar


Selemon Barega wins at the Cross Internacional Juan Muguerza in Elgoibar (© Fundación ANOC)

Olympic 10,000m champion Selemon Barega will return to the Cross Internacional Juan Muguerza – the 11th World Athletics Cross Country Tour Gold meeting this season – in the Spanish town of Elgoibar on Sunday (8).

While the Ethiopian, who won here in 2018, is the favourite in the men’s race, it’s more difficult to pick out just one leading contender in the women's contest, which looks set to be a highly competitive affair.

Sunday's race will mark Barega's third appearance here. The Ethiopian won in Elgoibar five years ago in a fascinating showdown with Uganda's Jacob Kiplimo, but Barega could not retain his crown the following year as he was defeated by Kenya's Rhonex Kipruto.

After finishing fifth over 10,000m at the World Championships in Oregon, the world indoor champion made his half marathon debut at the Great North Run in Newcastle last September when he finished second in 1:00:39. Barega’s first cross country outing this season came at the Jan Meda Cross on 1 January, where he finished seventh against high quality domestic opposition.

Bahrain's Birhanu Balew will be racing in Elgoibar for the first time. The 26-year-old, who was sixth over 5000m at the Tokyo Olympics and boasts a 27:07.49 PB for 10,000m, was second at the Cross Country Tour Gold meeting in Bydgoszcz in October, and placed a close second at Campaccio on Friday (6). He has previously won top-level cross-country races in Belfast, San Sebastian and Leffrinckoucke.

The Spanish contingent will be led by Adel Mechaal, the 2017 European cross-country silver medallist. The 32-year-old finished fourth in Elgoibar last year and will be aiming to improve on that before turning his attention to the European Indoor Championships in Istanbul where he lives.

Carlos Mayo will try to finish higher than he did at the San Silvestre Vallecana on New Year’s Eve when he finished sixth in 28:04, narrowly beaten by European U23 5000m silver medallist Aarón Las Heras.

Like Balew, Great Britain's Zakariya Mahamed is also making his Elgoibar debut. The 22-year-old Briton earned silver in the U23 race at the European Cross Country Championships in Venaria Reale last month. Mahamed, who also bagged team gold on that occasion, will be joined by fellow Brits Tomer Tarragano and William Barnicoat, the newly-minted European U20 cross-country champion competing in a senior international cross-country race for the first time.

Jebitok takes on Kipkemboi, Daniel and Niyonsaba

Edinah Jebitok was a clear winner in Elgoibar last year and the Kenyan returns this weekend, following a 2022 season where she set numerous PBs on the track. Last month she finished second at the highly competitive Kenyan Cross Country Championships.

But the defence of her title won’t be easy, as she’ll line up against a field that includes world 10,000m bronze medallist Margaret Chelimo Kipkemboi, 2021 Diamond League 5000m champion Francine Niyonsaba, 2022 World Cross Country Tour winner Rahel Daniel, and leading steeplechaser Winfred Yavi.

Kipkemboi ran a lifetime best of 30:10.07 in Eugene to capture her second global medal after the 5000m silver she earned in Doha in 2019, and more recently placed third at the New Year's Eve 5km race in Bolzano (15:44).

But Daniel beat Kipkemboi by just two seconds at the Campaccio Cross Country Tour Gold meeting on Friday (6). The Eritrean finished fifth over 10,000m at the World Championships in Eugene and set a national record of 30:12.15.

Niyonsaba is fresh from a runner-up spot at the San Silvestre Vallecana last Saturday (31) with a 30:58 clocking. Yavi, a fourth-place finisher at the past two World Championships, is the sixth-fastest steeplechaser in history and a proficient cross-country runner, having previously won the Cinque Mulini.

Ethiopia's Mahelet Mulugeta, who clocked 31:57 in Madrid last week, is also in the field, along with 2016 European 5000m bronze medallist Steph Twell, her fellow Briton Poppy Tank, who was 13th at the recent European Cross.

Irene Sánchez-Escribano, 15th at the European Cross, leads the Spanish challenge and will be joined by Isabel Barreiro, winner in Amorebieta and fourth at the Cross de Itálica this season, plus Naima Ait Alibou, who clocked 32:36 last Saturday in Madrid.

In addition to the elite events, there will be strong U20 races with representatives from Britain, Belgium, France and Portugal 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 four times in the 1960s.

Weather forecasters predict a rainy and windy race day with temperatures ranging between 14-16C at the time of the event.

Emeterio Valiente for World Athletics