As usual two World junior titles will be at stake when the 31st IAAF World Cross Country Championships take place in Lausanne-La Broye, this coming weekend (29-30 March). A 6000m race for junior women will be held on the first day (Saturday), and an 8000m event for the men will be contested on Sunday.
In the lottery of predictions which inherently amounts to any junior race preview, given that the likely-hood of an unknown athlete emerging is far more probably than in the more established senior ranks, we can be pretty certain that there will be two new World Junior champions crowned in Lausanne. Last year’s winners, the men’s Ethiopian Gebre Gebremariam (18yrs), and the women’s Viola Kibiwot (19 yrs) of Kenya, will both run in the senior division races in Lausanne.
With Gebre Gebremariam, Ethiopia’s reigning World Junior champion being heavily backed as a serious challenger for senior honours in Lausanne, following in the footsteps of 2001 junior winner Kenenisa Bekele who won both senior titles last March in Dublin, the way is left open for a new junior star to emerge.
Any of the Ethiopian squad led by their national champion Tessema Abshiro could challenge for honours - Solomon Molla, Endale Eshete, Girma Assefa, Getachew Denkir, Dema Woyesa.
Yet perhaps the most outstanding candidate for the title is last year’s World junior bronze medallist Boniface Kiprop of Uganda, who bravely contested the Ethiopian senior 12km championship at the beginning of March. Kiprop was a major surprise to the Ethiopians, leading them into the final lap, and was only blown away in the final sprint finish some 800m before the finish, eventually finishing seventh behind what now stands as the Ethiopian senior team in Lausanne.
If Kiprop does win, it will be the first time since 1991 (Andrew Sambu, TAN) that the World Junior men’s title has fallen into any other than Ethiopian or Kenyan hands.
Kenya’s Solomon Bushendich, who was 4th at 5000m, and took the bronze over 10,000m at last summer’s IAAF/Coca Cola World Junior Championships in Kingston, Jamaica, is also another major contender. Significantly, his conquerors in the latter were Gebremariam and Sileshi Sihine, who have both featured prominently on the senior cross country circuit this winter in Europe.
Beating Bushendich (23:34) in the Kenyan junior (8km) championships at the end of February were Eliud Kipchoge (23:28) and Moses Kimosop (23:29). The rest of the Kenyan line up is as follows - Kipkorir Chepkwony, Agustine Choge, Barnaba Kosgei.
If we are to look for a European challenge for World honours, then we should turn our attention to Russia. The recently turned 18-year-old Rybakov twins, Evgeny and Anatoly (27/02/1985) swept all before them (as 17-year-olds) at the European Cross Country Championships last December. Evgeny (18:16) won the continental junior title in Medulin Croatia (8 December 2002) by one second from Anatoly (18:17). The rest of the top eight finishers in that European junior race are either competing in the senior ranks or not at all in Lausanne.
Last year the Kenyans, Ethiopians and Ugandans filled the first 15 finishing places in Dublin, and the likely team predication for Lausanne would be a repeat of 2002, with Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda, in that order.
Europe should certainly be to the fore if Britain’s Charlotte Dale can produce the same sterling run which won her the European junior title last December. Joining her is Danielle Barnes, whose 8th place in Croatia helped secure the junior European team title for Britain too.
Also, in the hunt for Europe will be the European junior cross 5th place finisher, Adrienne Herzog,who is the lone entrant for The Netherlands in Lausanne, and possibly even Turkey’s Türkan Erismis, who came 10th in Croatia.
More probably individual victory in Lausanne rests in Ethiopian hands, as they will be represented by last year’s World Junior silver medallist Tirnuesh Dibaba, who also took silver over 5000m on the track at the World Junior Championships in Kingston.
However, Dibaba had to give best to Meselech Melkamu in a tight finish at the national championships at the beginning of this month, in which less than a second separated the pair. Third placer in that race was Sintayehu Ejigu but she was more than two minutes adrift.
The Kenyan charge will be headed by national champion Jepchumba Koech, who was followed home closely in those national trials by Emily Chebet, Penina Chepchumba (fifth at the 2002 Worlds), Chemutai Rionotukei, Gladys Chemweno, and Sharon Kipsang. Only eleven seconds separated these top six finishers, who now comprise the Kenyan team in Lausanne. Any of these women could challenge for individual honours, and hopes of another Kenyan team title seem to rest on solid ground with this squad.
At the time of writing it is believed that the Japanese team will not contest this year’s championships due to the Gulf war, a decision which throws the women’s team title open a little wider than usual, because Japan the bronze medallists in 2002, have been World Junior team medallists every year for the last ten years.
Morocco’s Al Aoui Selsouli will be a good outside bet for individual medal honours, as she took a silver medal at 3000m and a fifth place at 1500m on the track at last summer’s World Juniors.