One year ago, Kenya made history at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland, producing a gold medal sweep for the first time in World Cross history. Can the east African nation once again claim all eight titles – four individual and four team – at this year’s IAAF World Cross Country Championships, Punta Umbria, Spain on 20 March 2011?
Whether Kenya can or can’t repeat that sweep what is guaranteed is that the same teams that cruised to that historic collective victory in each of the four races in Poland last year will be composed differently. How difficult it is to even earn a spot on the Kenyan squad was vividly displayed at their national trials in Nairobi last month when all four reigning individual World Cross champions couldn’t even qualify for the hotly contested team berth. However, such is the depth of Kenyan distance running talent that doesn’t mean that the team that will be heading to Spain isn’t capable of trying to repeat last year’s unprecedented achievement.
Men’s national trials winner Geoffrey Mutai is arguably the world’s finest men’s cross country runner at the moment, while Linet Masai, the women’s winner at the trials, already has impressive World Championships credentials, having taken home back-to-back cross country silver medals in 2009 and 2010, and striking gold at 10,000m on the track in 2009.
Then there is junior winner Isaiah Kiplangat Koech, who has emerged as a world beater on the indoor circuit this winter with blazing runs in the 3000m and 5000m, the latter with a world-leading time. Janet Kisa, the junior women’s champion, is largely unknown, but in Nairobi, she managed to pass the biggest test of her career.
If anyone can stand in their way, it will likely be perennial rival Ethiopia. Meselech Melkamu, herself a three-time World Cross Country medallist, will lead the assault on Masai. In the women’s junior contest, Genet Yalew, the World junior 3000m bronze medallist, will certainly give Kisa another fierce test.
With Mutai and Koech heading their respective squads, unseating the men will be a considerably more difficult task. Likely to mount the strongest challenge will be Ethiopia, Uganda, and Eritrea, who have all produced medallists, both individual and team, in recent years. But their battle will certainly be an uphill one?
Can history repeat? We’ll find out on 20 March.