MontePride will once again fuel the rivalry between Kenya and Ethiopia the two giants of distance running. Having been sequestered for three weeks of high altitude training alongside members of their respective senior teams these impressionable teenagers will surely put space between themselves and the rest of the field at the 33rd edition of the IAAF World Cross Country Championships, St-Etienne/St-Galmier, France (19/20 March).
Indeed, Kenyans have won fifteen of the last sixteen junior men’s World Cross Country Championship team titles and there is little doubt that, barring a catastrophe - overtraining in those camps perhaps - they will add yet another in St-Etienne/St-Galmier.
Leading the way will be Augustine Choge whose first two years of international competition have seen him win the World Youth 3000m gold medal in Sherbrooke, Canada, the World Junior 5000m crown a year ago before recording a spectacular 12:57.01 for the 5000m, all before his 18th birthday. More disheartening for their East African rivals, Choge may not even be his country's best.
Hosea Macharnyang, who was 6th in Brussels a year ago, won three of Athletics Kenya’s cross country challenge series events this winter. Together with Barnabas Kiplagat Kosgei - 4th in Brussels - they present a formidable argument for continued Kenyan dominance. And with just four athletes to score they only need one of the supporting cast to get inside the first ten to wrap up the victory.
Ethiopia will counter with Tariku Bekele, who famously defeated cross country legend Paul Tergat in Elgoibar, Portugal last November and Solomon Molla, the surprising winner of Ethiopia’s trials. As usual the individual race will be less important to these two nations than the outcome of their team rivalry. Morocco looks promising for a team bronze medal.
American Galen Rupp will be looking for that elusive top-10 finish. He has elected to put off his college eligibilty while he trains full time with his famous coach the former World’s fastest marathon runner Alberto Salazar - who is a member of the US team delegation in France - and the Nike Oregon Project. Rupp easily won the US Junior Championships despite having missed valuable training this autumn because of a stress fracture. An indoor 3000m personal best time of 7:58.02 a fortnight ago shows he is recuperating nicely.
If the Ethiopian junior men are once again consigned to silver the Ethiopian Federation will take some comfort in knowing their junior women are favoured to capture their third successive junior team gold medal.
Geleta Burka, the individual bronze medallist in Lausanne two years ago, romped to an impressive victory in the Ethiopian trials on 27 February and made no secret of her intention to win two golds in France, and among those joining her will be Werkitu Ayana who was 4th in the Brussels World Cross last year.
The Kenyans have high hopes for Veronica Nyaruai who won five of Athletics Kenya’s domestic cross country races - including the IAAF Permit meeting in Nairobi - and shared in the one million shillings ($12,500 US) jackpot offered by the federation. Maintaining top form from November until March may prove a challenge but should she falter there is also Jebichi Yator to carry the Kenyan flag. She was 6th in Brussels a year ago.
Miyai Hitomi of Japan finished 10th in Brussels just ten seconds behind Yator and returns wiser and stronger for the experience. Whether she can match the Kenyan ambition remains to be seen but certainly Japan will lead the charge for the bronze medal. Their junior women’s team won a team medal for ten consecutive years until 2002 and then again in 2004. Japan did not send a junior team in 2003. The Americans led by University of Colorado freshman Elizabeth Pasciuto - the US champion - are fielding a strong team.
Paul Gains for the IAAF
NOTE – when reading these previews please understand that until Friday afternoon’s Technical Meeting (18 March) has taken place, all team line-ups remain very fluid.