Preview Manama, Bahrain

Jamal's home debut and Shaheen’s championship return - Asian XC Champs - PREVIEW

Saif Saaeed Shaheen running in the Cinque Mulini (Lorenzo Sampaolo)Saif Saaeed Shaheen running in the Cinque Mulini (Lorenzo Sampaolo) © Copyright

The small, but prosperous Middle East nation of Bahrain will play host to the 10th Asian Cross Country Championships at the Bahrain hippodrome race course in Manama on Sunday 1 March 2009.

The championships will give a chance to Asia’s top contenders to fine-tune their preparations ahead the 37th IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Amman, Jordan (Sat 28 March) in four weeks time.

SENIOR WOMEN - Jamal and Bahrain teammates line-up for home debut

The highlight of the championships will be focused on Bahrain’s golden girl Maryam Yusuf Jamal as she joins the country’s other foreign imports in making her home competition debut.

The 24-year-old, who like many of the country’s top athletes changed allegiances from eastern and northern African countries in the last five years, has never raced on Bahraini soil since her switch from Ethiopia in 2005. Her presence in the competition will increase the probability of a clean sweep of the medals in the senior women’s race.

Despite a disappointing fifth place finish at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Jamal, the World 1500m champion has made a strong start to the 2009 campaign with an encouraging 4:02.74 indoor 1500m solo victory in Birmingham last Saturday (21).

Her most likely challenger to the defence of her title will be Mimi Belete. The 20-year-old has been in stunning form on the international cross country circuit this season where she had been competing based in Belgium as a political refugee since defecting from Ethiopia along with her sister Alemnesh. Asian Games 10,000m silver medallist Kareema Jasim Salah, who won silver two years ago in Amman, will hope to go one better this year, while Sara Bakheet Yaqoob, another Ethiopian-turned-Bahraini, completes the line-up for the home nation.

The biggest threat to Bahraini supremacy should come from India’s Preeja Sreedharan who was in the Beijing Olympic 10,000m. The presence of Japan’s Kazuka Wakatsuki, who finished third in the China Cross Country two weeks ago, should help her country’s bid for team honours, while marathon runners Fang Xiaoyu and Qie Liping represent Chinese prospects.

SENIOR MEN- Shaheen returns, but Hassan hopes to defend for Qatar

The senior men’s race sees the championship return of Qatar’s World 3000m Steeplechase record holder Saif Said Shaheen. The 26-year old has spent the large share of the last two years out of action due to injury and has not raced for Qatar since winning the IAAF World Cup 5000m in September 2006.

He will be challenged by teammate Ahmed Hassan Abdullah, who is the defending champion and the Asian record holder over the 10000m. Asian 5000m champion Felix Kikwai Kibore and James Kwalia Kirui complete a strong line-up for the Qataris.

Home nation Bahrain will pose the biggest threat to Qatari hopes of a team title. They will be led by Asian Games 10,000m champion Hassan Mahboob, while Khaled Yacine, who won bronze two years ago, could also be a factor. Surender Singh, runner-up two years ago, leads the Indian challenge.

Elshadai Negash for the IAAF

NOTE: Entry lists remain fluid until the technical meeting on Saturday February 28th 2009.