Paul Tanui, winner of the men's race at the Cross Internacional de Italica (© Alfambra Fundación ANOC)
The Cross Internacional de Itálica in Santiponce on the outskirts of the Spanish city of Seville once again boasts a mouth-watering field. This year’s edition of the IAAF Cross Country Permit meeting on Sunday (18) will feature three of the top seven finishers from the 2013 World Cross.
Tanui poised to strike again
Eritrea’s world cross-country bronze medallist Teklemariam Medhin should be one of the men to beat in the 10.8km event after his commanding win at the Cross Internacional de San Sebastian last Sunday. This weekend will mark the 25-year-old’s fourth outing in the current cross-country season and he seems to be rounding into form as the season develops.
Medhin took fourth place at the opening leg of the IAAF Cross Country Permit series in Atapuerca on 16 November, then finished runner-up the following week at in Soria permit and finally took victory in San Sebastian just ahead of Timothy Toroitich of Uganda.
Toroitich will also be in Santiponce on Sunday, looking for his fifth cross-country win after victories in Soria, Alcobendas, Venta de Banos and Amorebieta in recent months. His performance in San Sebastian was one of just two losses this season, following his third-place finish in Atapuerca.
The 23-year-old will be accompanied by his fellow Ugandan Joshua Cheptegei, the world junior 10,000m champion, who will be competing in his first senior cross-country race. He had hoped to compete at the recent Campaccio meeting, but was forced to pull out due to visa issues.
The rematch between Medhin and Toroitich will have world 10,000m bronze medallist Paul Tanui as a witness. The 24-year-old Kenyan took silver at the 2011 World Cross in Punta Umbria, just 70 miles away from where this weekend’s race will take place.
There is still a question mark over Tanui’s shape since Sunday will mark his season opener, but he won here last year under similar circumstances, beating Toroitich in the process.
Eritrea’s Goitom Kifle finished seventh at the 2013 World Cross, but the biggest danger for the favoured trio of Toroitich, Medhin and Tanui could be Bedan Karoki. Last year the 24-year-old won the hotly contested Kenyan cross-country title before setting PBs of 26:52.36 for 10,000m and 59:23 for the half marathon.
Watch out too for the Kenyan pair of Kenneth Kiprop Kipkemoi, who clocked 59:01 to finish runner-up at the Valencia Half Marathon in October, and Diamond Race steeplechase champion Jairus Birech, who finished fourth in the 4km event in Edinburgh last weekend.
The European challenge will be headed by Turkey’s newly-minted European cross-country champion Polat Kemboi Arikan, along with a powerful Spanish contingent comprising Antonio Abadia, Javier Guerra, Mohamed Marhoum, Roberto Alaiz and Ivan Fernandez.
Kenyan clean sweep of medals in prospect
The women’s 8km contest also provides a classy field. In the absence of the top two finishers from last year – Hiwot Ayalew and Belaynesh Oljira, who are preparing for the Ethiopian Championships – the event looks to be a three-way battle between the Kenyan trio of two-time world cross-country champion Emily Chebet, 2009 world 10,000m champion Linet Masai and Diamond Race 5000m winner Mercy Cherono.
The 28-year-old Chebet will fly directly from Nairobi to take part in her second cross-country contest of the season, following a fifth-place finish in Nyahururu last month. A couple of months before that, she had clocked a half-marathon PB of 1:08:01 when winning in Valencia.
Three-time world cross-country silver medallist Masai will also be making her seasonal cross-country debut, but she perfectly knows Sunday’s circuit after taking the spoils in 2010 and 2012. World 5000m silver medallist Cherono will be contesting her third outing this season after being runner-up in Atapuerca and a convincing victor in Soria.
Bahrain’s Mimi Belete, a track specialist with a PB of 8:30:00 for 3000m, will try to prevent a Kenyan 1-2-3. The 26-year-old won at the Venta de Banos meeting in December, comfortably beating European 1500m champion Sifan Hassan.
Spain’s Ethiopian-born Trihas Gebre, European 3000m steeplechase bronze medallist Diana Martin, Iris Fuentes-Pila and Lidia Rodriguez lead the domestic challenge while Portugal’s Carla Salome Rocha, Germany’s Simret Restle and Britain’s Jessica Andrews complete the European armada.
Weather forecasters predict a rainy and windy day on Sunday with the thermometer about 13-15°C by the time of the event.
Emeterio Valiente for the IAAF