Previews15 Dec 2023

Past winner Jebitok returns to Venta de Baños


Edinah Jebitok wins the Cross Internacional de Venta de Banos (© Asociacion ADOC)

Kenya’s Edinah Jebitok is the standout name at the Cross Internacional de Venta de Baños, the ninth Gold leg of this season's World Athletics Cross Country Tour, on Sunday (17).

Jebitok, the winner here in 2021, heads the cast in the women’s 9.3km contest. The 22-year-old was a convincing victor two years ago, finishing 69 seconds ahead of her nearest rival. The 1500m specialist, who has represented Kenya at the World Championships and Olympics, has enjoyed a strong 2023 campaign so far. She placed eighth in the senior women’s race at the World Cross Country Championships in Bathurst, then set track PBs of 4:02.00 for 1500m and 14:52.28 for 5000m.

She now heads to Venta de Baños off the back of cross-country wins in San Sebastián on 5 November and in Seville the following week after a thrilling sprint with Ethiopia's Senayet Getachew. Just two weeks ago, she notched up another victory, this time in Eldoret, where she beat a strong domestic field.

Asayech Ayichew appears to be Jebitok’s fiercest opponent on Sunday. The Ethiopian will be making her third outing on Spanish ground having finished runner-up in Soria and Alcobendas last month. The 22-year-old, a 15:06.35 5000m performer, will be looking for her first cross-country win this season.

USA's Katie Izzo should be another podium contender. The 26-year-old finished second at the ‘Cross Champs’ in Austin last month and holds a 15:13.09 5000m indoor lifetime best.

Kenya’s Maurine Jemutai, who boasts a 1:08:55 half marathon career best, should also be in contention. In recent weeks she has finished second in Cantimpalos and first in Amurrio two days later.

Local hopes, meanwhile, rest mainly with Cristina Ruiz, who placed 13th at the recent European Cross Country Championships in Brussels, and Marta García, who finished fourth in Soria last month and 36th in Brussels. Both Spaniards earned team silver medals last weekend while Ángela Viciosa finished a creditable fourth in the U23 race in Brussels to earn team bronze.

The men’s 9.3km race looks set to be a competitive battle between some of the top Spaniards who took part at the recent European Cross Country Championships, including Abdessamad Oukhelfen, Fernando Carro, Aarón Las Heras and Nassim Hassaous.

The former achieved arguably his best ever international performance in Brussels, placing seventh. The 2019 European U23 5000m and cross country bronze medallist has shown great consistency this winter season with top-10 places in Atapuerca, San Sebastián and Seville. Sunday's race could be his first win at a Gold level race on the eve of his 25th birthday.

Oukhelfen, runner-up last year here, will face the opposition of national steeplechase record-holder Fernando Carro who placed 26th at the Europeans, while US-based Las Heras took European U20 5000m gold in 2019 and U23 silver two years later and should be in the hunt for a podium place.

Hassaous, who placed 34th at the World Cross in Bathurst, will be eager to bounce back from his 60th-place finish at the recent European Cross after a solid cross-county season which includes seventh-place finishes in Atapuerca and Soria. European U23 10,000m bronze medallist Miguel Baidal will also be aiming for a high placing on Sunday following a fifth-place finish in the U23 race at the European Cross.

Morocco's Abderraahmane Aferdi, a 1:01:28 half marathon performer, will be trying to deny a Spanish podium sweep. He is fresh from an easy win in Alcalá de Henares earlier this month.

Despite having just 6500 inhabitants, the small Spanish village of Venta de Baños has hosted this top-notch cross country event since 1980. Past winners here include the likes of Kenenisa Bekele, Letesenbet Gidey and Selemon Barega.

Weather forecasters predict a cold day with the thermometer in the 3-5C range by the time of the event.

Emeterio Valiente for World Athletics

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