Rodrigue Kwizera wins the Cross Internacional de Soria (© Asociacion ADOC)
Burundi's Rodrigue Kwizera will be the marquee athlete at the Cross Internacional de Venta de Banos, the seventh Gold leg of this season’s World Athletics Cross Country Tour, to be held on Sunday (19). The 22-year-old rising star remains unbeaten this cross country season and has so far won no fewer than six races on Spanish soil.
The Burundian is now based in the Spanish city of Castellon alongside his compatriot and training partner Thierry Ndikumwenayo, who will also be in contention on Sunday over the 10,575m course. Yet Kwizera’s toughest rival might be Uganda’s Albert Chemutai, a 8:12.29 3000m steeplechaser. The 25-year-old Chemuta came 12th at the last World Cross Country Championships in 2019 and later that year he became an overwhelming victor in Venta de Banos as he crossed the finish line with a massive 48-second advantage over Getnet Wale of Ethiopia. Chemutai, who competed in the heats for his specialist event at the Tokyo Olympics, will be making his debut in this cross country campaign.
Ethiopia’s Nibret Melak should also be a factor on Sunday. The 22-year-old boasts a 27:26 10km performance and showed fine form at the Italica meeting on 21 November when he took third spot. Watch out too for the 18-year-old Eritrean Merhawi Mebrahtu, who placed fourth and fifth over 3000m and 5000m respectively at the World U20 Championchips in Nairobi. More recently, Mebrahtu finished runner-up at the ‘Jean Bouin’, a 10km road race held in Barcelona three weeks ago, being beaten only by Spain’s Mohamed Katir.
The Spanish pair of Nassim Hassaous and Carlos Mayo will be hunting for a top-five spot as well. The former led Spain to team silver at the European Cross Country Championships in Dublin thanks to a surprise seventh place, while Mayo, a 27:25.00 10,000m performer and 13th over the distance at the Tokyo Olympics, finished 11th on that occasion, nine seconds behind his compatriot.
Who can stop Cherono?
The women's 7975m contest features Kenya’s Eva Cherono, who finished eighth at the last World Cross Country Championships. The 25-year-old has improved her 10,000m lifetime best this year to 30:49.23 in Stockholm and made her cross country debut this campaign three weeks ago in Seville, when she had to settle for eighth.
Cherono will be joined by her fellow Kenyan Edinah Jebitok, a 1500m specialist credited with a 4:03.46 performance who made the Kenyan squad for the Tokyo Olympics. Ethiopia’s Spain-based Likina Amebaw Ayel should complete the podium on Sunday as she proved to be in fine form a fortnight ago in Alcobendas where she came third. Spanish hopes rest on Cristina Ruiz, seventh in the U23 race in Dublin last Sunday, and Laura Luengo, fifth in Alcobendas and 33rd in the senior European race.
Venta de Banos is a small village of barely 6400 habitants placed some 260km away from Madrid, but organisers can boast about having one of the most remarkable cross country races worldwide. Among its past winners are Ethiopia’s Kenenisa Bekele (2004) and the reigning Olympic 10,000m champion Selemon Barega, victorious in 2017 in the men’s event, while their fellow Ethiopian and current distance ace Letesenbet Gidey took the spoils here in 2018.
Weather forecasters predict a sunny and windless day and a temperature slighly higher than usual at this stage of the year, with the thermometer reaching between 7-9ºC by the time of the event.
Emeterio Valiente for World Athletics