Hellen Obiri (© Getty Images)
The 57th San Silvestre Vallecana, a World Athletics Elite Label Road Race and possibly the most prestigious of the myriad of New Year's Eve races around the world, will return to its usual circuit on Friday (31) after a change last year because of the pandemic.
The women’s race on the slightly downhill 10km point-to-point course – which starts alongside the famous Santiago Bernabeu stadium of Real Madrid and finishes on the pitch of another Spanish first division club, Rayo Vallecano, in the Madrid suburbs – has Kenya’s distance ace Hellen Obiri as the athlete to beat.
The two-time world 5000m champion and Olympic silver medallist finished second in Madrid in 2018 after a thrilling battle with her fellow Kenyan and current world marathon record-holder Brigid Kosgei. Obiri’s outstanding 29:59 time then proved not enough to take the victory, but the 32-year-old will be eager to claim victory in Madrid for the first time on her opening appearance this winter.
Yet the reigning world cross country champion Obiri will face tough opposition provided by Ethiopia’s Degitu Azimeraw, 10 years her junior. Azimeraw is an accomplished road specialist, having recorded the second quickest ever marathon debut when she won in Amsterdam in 2:19:26 in 2019 to also break the course record in the Dutch city.
After another fine performance over the classic distance of 2:19:56 for sixth in Valencia in 2020, the Ethiopian moved to 11th on the world all-time list last October following her runner-up spot in London in a big lifetime best of 2:17:58. Azemiraw boasts a relatively modest 31:03.32 10,000m clocking set in Hengelo a couple of years ago. The NN Running Team athlete will be joined by her teammates Lonah Salpeter of Israel and Haven Hailu from Ethiopia.
The 33-year-old Salpeter holds the European 10km record with a 30:05 time to her credit set in Tilburg in 2019, one year after she won the European 10,000m title in Berlin. She attempted to land an Olympic marathon medal in Sapporo, remaining in a four-unit leading pack until the 36th kilometre, but some stomach problems ultimately hampered her aspirations. After that disappointment, Salpeter bounced back eight weeks later to place fifth at the London Marathon in her second quickest time of 2:18:54, not particularly far from her career best of 2:17:45 run in Tokyo in 2020 which makes her the eighth fastest woman in history.
Watch out too for the 23-year-old Hailu, as she was an unheralded distance runner until this year but clocked 2:20:19 for third in Amsterdam in October. She will compete in the company of her fellow Ethiopian Likina Amebaw Ayel, a 32:20 performer.
The men’s contest is also shaping up well as the classy cast includes the in-form Burundian Rodrigue Kwizera. The 22-year-old is enjoying a fantastic cross country season on Spanish soil, having taken victories at several prestigious events such as Soria, San Sebastian, Atapuerca, Italica and Venta de Banos. While the race record of 26:41 set by Jacob Kiplimo in 2018 seems unreachable, Kwizera should run well under the 28-minute barrier for the first time in his career.
Trying to deny Kwizera top spot will be Spain’s 2021 sensation Mohamed Katir, who broke three long-standing national records in the short space of 33 days. The rising Spaniard began his tally by clocking 12:50.79 for 5000m in Florence on 10 June, continued with a 3:28.76 1500m performance in Monaco on 9 July and concluded in style by taking the win over 3000m in Gateshead four days later, timed at 7:27.64.
In his first appearance at a major championships, Katir finished eighth at the Tokyo Olympics over 5000m. He more recently took the spoils at the Jean Bouin, a 10km road race held in Barcelona on 28 November, when he outsprinted Eritrea’s Merhawi Mebrahtu after a one-month stint at the altitude of Font Romeu. The 23-year-old’s next primary goal is the indoors, where he will try to excel over 3000m.
Kenya’s Shadrack Koech and Uganda’s Boniface Abel Sikowo should also be in the hunt for a podium place on Friday. The former holds a 27:21 10km lifetime best, while Sikowo is an 8:25.91 3000m steeplechase athlete who is tackling the road events and ran a 1:01:44 half marathon debut in Barcelona in October.
Not to be discounted is Kenya’s Emmanuel Kiplagat, as the 19-year-old clocked 28:28.02 for 10,000m last summer at the altitude of Nairobi.
In addition to Katir, Spanish hopes rest on Nassim Hassaous and Abdessamad Oukhelfen as they finished seventh and 12th respectively at the European Cross Country Championships in Dublin to lead Spain to team silver, while marathon runners Ayad Lamdassem (2:06:35) and Yago Rojo (2:08:56) will be aiming for a top 10 spot. The Tokyo Olympics 1500m 13th-placed Ignacio Fontes will also be in contention.
Weather forecasters predict perfect conditions for the race, with a mild and windless night, and temperatures between 12 and 14ºC by the time of the event.
Emeterio Valiente for World Athletics
Edris and Kipkemboi return to Boclassic
Two-time world 5000m champion Muktar Edris will target a fourth Boclassic victory, while world 5000m silver medallist Margaret Kipkemboi will defend her title when the Bolzano event – a World Athletics Label Road Race – takes place on Friday (31).
The races return to the usual picturesque course through the centre of the northern Italian town, having been moved to an alternative loop route in Vadena last year because of the pandemic.
This time Edris looks the man to beat following his three wins in Bolzano in 2014, 2016 and 2017 and he will be joined in the 10km men's race by Eyob Faniel, who won the race in 2019 to become the first Italian champion in 31 years.
Joining them will be Italy's Yemaneberhan Crippa, who finished fourth in last year's 5km race and has placed in the top 10 of the previous four editions of the 10km.
Kipkemboi, meanwhile, won last year's women's 10km race as well as the 2019 5km, clocking 15:30 to match the course record.
This year she will line up as part of a 5km women's field also featuring Italy's Nadia Battocletti, who placed seventh in the Olympic 5000m final and went on to win her third European Cross Country Championships title, winning the U23 race after her two U20 victories.