Kenya’s Japhet Korir will make a little bit of history at the Antrim IAAF International Cross Country on Saturday (4), an IAAF Cross Country Permit meeting, because it will be the first time that a reigning World cross country champion will compete at the event in its 36 year-history.
Korir, then just 19, caused a sensation at the 2013 IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland, last March when he became the youngest ever winner of the senior title.
However, he struggled to find his best form in the second half of 2013 due to a lung infection sustained shortly after his Bydgoszcz triumph and didn’t go to the IAAF World Championships in Moscow.
However, Korir showed that he is getting back close to his best with good showings in two Spanish cross country races, at Atapuerca and Alcobendas, towards the end of 2013.
In Northern Ireland, Korir will face tough competition from Uganda’s defending Antrim champion Thomas Ayeko as well as Kenya’s Emmanuel Bett.
Bett finished a close second in the Atapuerca IAAF Cross Country Permit meeting in Spain seven weeks ago, where Korir was sixth, coming home just one second behind Ethiopia’s in-form 2011 World cross country champion Imane Merga.
In October, Bett also showed fine form on the roads when winning the Great South Run in England, covering the 10 miles in 48:03.
The elite men's race also includes Morocco’s Aziz Lahbabi, who was third in the high quality BoClassic race in Italy on New Year’s Eve, and Kenya’s Titus Mbishei, a silver medallist as a junior in both the 2008 IAAF World Junior Championships 10,000m and 2009 IAAF World Cross Country Championships.
Mbishei knows the Antrim course at Greenmount well, having finished second in 2011.
Britton's ambitions of an Antrim hat-trick
Ireland’s 2011 and 2012 European Cross Country Championships gold medallist Fionnuala Britton will go in search of a hat-trick in Antrim after winning the 5.6km women’s race for the last two years.
She faces two strong British challengers in the shape of Gemma Steel, who took silver at 2013 European Cross County Championships in Belgrade when Britton finished fourth.
Steel also finished second behind Britton in Antrim two years ago.
Also on the starting line will be Charlotte Purdue, who won in Antrim three years ago as a teenager. After 18 months battling injuries, she returned to form at the European Cross Country Championships last month and took the bronze medal in the under 23 race.
However, perhaps the biggest threat to Britton’s Antrim ambitions comes from Bahrain’s 2009 and 2011 IAAF World Championships gold medallist Maryam Jamal, who convincingly took the women’s title at the BoClassic on New Year’s Eve, although the anticipated heavy conditions may not be to her liking and more suitable for the British and Irish runner
Kenya’s Magdalene Masai and Eunice Kales, who finished third and fifth last year, are also returning to the race, along with Belgium’s Almensch Belete, who was two places behind Britton in sixth at the European Cross Country Championships a month ago.
Phil Minshull for the IAAF