The junior races, like their senior counterparts will be fiercely competitive between the two super-powers of cross country running - Ethiopia and Kenya.
Historically, on the men’s side, from 1985 either Ethiopia or Kenya has won the team title, with the other finishing second, sometimes in close contention. The junior men’s team from Kenya has won the last seven titles. On the other hand, women’s team race is less lopsided. In the last 8 years, Ethiopia has won five-times while Kenya won three-times.
Even when the Kenyan senior dynasty ended its hold on the long course title in 2004, the Kenyan men’s junior team was able to hold onto its crown. In fact, it was the only team race that Kenyan won in 2004. In 2005, the Kenyan junior women’s team also prevailed over Ethiopian team.
Four runners with the best credentials in the junior race are the first and second place finishers in both the Ethiopian and Kenyan Trials, respectively, Ibrahim Jelan Gashu and Tariku Bekele, and Mangata Ndiwa and Joseph Ebuya.
Perhaps all eyes will be on Tariku Bekele, Kenenisa’s younger brother. Tariku, when he was still 18-years-old had already broken the 13 minutes barrier for the 5000m. His progression is much faster than that of more famous sibling. Tariku won a medal at both the 2003 World Youth Championships and 2004 World Junior Championships, while his team mate Gashu was the silver medallist at the 2005 World Youth Championships.
Ndiwa finished fifth, one place ahead of Tariku Bekele, at the junior race in the 2005 World Cross Country Championships, while Ebuya, was fourth at 5000m in the recent Commonwealth Games in Melbourne.
The largest winning margin in the junior men’s race history is 33 seconds by Kenenisa Bekele in 2002. In 1987 Wilfred Kiroch barely held off Demeke Bekele; they were credited with the same time. Six-times in the history (held 33 times) the differential between the first and second place finishers was one second or less.
The Kenyan men’s junior team have won seven straight team championships, and total of 17 gold medals, while Ethiopia have won seven team championships. Three times, 1993, 2000 and 2005, in the history of junior men’s races, Kenya has scored the perfect score of 10 (= 1+2+3+4).
Supremacy in the junior women’s race will most likely be fought out between Veronica Nyarwai Wanjiru and Workitu Ayanu, who respectively won the Kenyan and Ethiopian trials meetings. Wanjiru, the World Youth 3000m champion, was the silver medallist at the junior race in the 2005 World Cross Country Championships. Ayanu, fourth and sixth in the last two editions of the World Cross junior race, is considered to be the heir-apparent to Tirunesh Dibaba, Meselech Melkamu and Gelete Burka, the last three World Cross junior winners.
Last year Gelete Burka recorded the largest winning margin, 27 seconds, in the history of the junior women’s race. However, this year’s race is likely to be close. In 2001, Viola Kibiwot just held off Abebech Nigussie; they were credited with the same time.
Fourteen times in the last 17 years, the winning margin was less than or equal to five seconds. Furthermore, seven times in history, the winning margin has been one second or less.
The Kenyan junior women’s team has won eleven team titles, while Ethiopia has won six team golds. Twice, 1993 (Kenya) and 2004 (Ethiopia), in the history of junior women’s race, the perfect score of 10 has been scored.
The Japanese hosts have their best chance to medal in the junior women’s race. Five times in the last eight years they have been the highest non-African finishers. They have won fourteen medals including three silver medals.
In 1999, Yoshiko Fujinaga won the only individual medal by a Japanese runner in the World Cross Country Championships, while Hitomi Niiya, a bronze medallist at 3000m in the 2005 World Youth Championships, on the team, this may be the best opportunity for another individual medal for Japan. Another Japanese junior sensation, Yuriko Kobayashi, will be running in Fukuoka, however, she will be running in the short race (4Km), presumably because she is better at the short distance and the junior women’s race is 6Km in length.
Ken Nakamura for the IAAF