Preview Soria, Spain

Bett and Weldu favourites in Soria

Nazaret Weldu of Eritrea takes a surprise win in Amorebieta (Miguel Alfambra)Nazaret Weldu of Eritrea takes a surprise win in Amorebieta (Miguel Alfambra) © Copyright

Soria, Spain - The 19th ‘Cross Internacional de Soria’ - the second leg of the IAAF Cross Country Permit Series 2012/13- will take place on Sunday (18). The race’s home, the ‘Monte Valonsadero’ circuit, is a beautiful forest on the outskirts of Soria well-known for many years as the main training location for 1992 Olympic 1500m champion Fermín Cacho and 1997 and 1999 World Marathon gold medallist Abel Antón.

Kenyans aiming a double

The men’s 10,000m race should be a close battle between the Kenyan pair of Emmanuel Kipkemei Bett and John Kipkoech. Both have shown fine early season form as recently as last Sunday when they placed third and fifth respectively at this season’s inaugural IAAF cross country permit in Atapuerca. Actually, Bett made most of the pacing duties for the second half of the race and he was only overtaken over the closing stages by two reigning World Cross Country medallists such as Ethiopia’s Imane Merga (gold) and Kenya’s Vincent Chepkok (bronze).

Bett’s case is quite unusual at the top level as he only made a major breakthrough in 2011 at the age of 28 by clocking an impressive 26:51.95 at the Van Damme Memorial in Brussels, a performance he marginally bettered last September to set the 2012 world leading mark of 26:51.16 at the same event. Bett narrowly missed out on the London Olympics as he could only finish fifth in the 5000m and fourth over 10,000m at the tough Kenyan Olympics trials.

As for Kipkoech, who turns 21-years-old next month, he is a former (2010) World Junior 5000m silver medallist in Moncton. Since then Kipkoech has improved his performances dramatically and holds a world-class 12:49.50 time set at the Paris Samsung Diamond League. The young Kenyan proved to be in top form last Sunday as he was part of the leading group until the beginning of the closing kilometre in Atapuerca.

Sunday’s line-up also includes four more top-ten athletes from Atapuerca in the guise of Uganda’s Moses Kibet (6th) the Eritrean duo of Amanuel Mesel (7th) and Kidane Tadese (9th), plus Spain’s double (2010 & 2011) European XC silver medallist Ayad Lamdassem, who had to settle for 8th on that occasion.

The Moroccan-born 31-year-old heads the local contingent which will also be compounded by the 2010 World Indoor 3000m silver medallist Sergio Sánchez, Javier Guerra – a creditable 6th at last year’s XC Europeans in Velenje, the former (2002) European 3000m Steeplechase champion Antonio Jiménez and Daniel Mateo, who is coached by Abel Antón and will look for a berth in the Spanish team thinking of next month’s XC Europeans to be held in Budapest.

Weldu to retain title

The women’s 8000m contest should be led by Eritrea’s Nazaret Weldu. The 22-year-old is the reigning champion in Soria and Sunday’s race will be her opening appearance of this IAAF XC season, although Weldu – who set a 1500m national record of 4:09.34 last summer – has already taken no less than five XC wins on Spanish ground in early 2012, top permits such as Amorebieta and Lasarte included.

Ethiopia’s Spain-based Rehima Jewar and Spain’s Diana Martín, who placed 10th in Atapuerca, seem to be safe bets for podium positions while Ireland’s Sara Treacy and Linda Byrne will also be in contention.

Among the most illustrious victors in previous years in Soria are: Ethiopia’s 2000 Olympic 5000m champion Million Wolde (1997), Kenya’s 2001 World 10,000m champion Charles Kamathi (2002), his compatriot Sally Barsosio (1994) who took the 10,000m gold medal at the 1997 Worlds in Athens, Eritrea’s 2007 World Cross Country champion Zersenay Tadese who took top honours in 2004 and the Kenyan pair of 2010 World champion Joseph Ebuya and the three-time World silver medallist Linet Masai, the 2009 winners.

Weather forecasters predict a cloudy day on Sunday with a 50% of rain likelihood and a temperature range between 6ºC and 9ºC by the time of the event.

Emeterio Valiente for the IAAF