25 JAN 2013 Preview Diekirch, Luxembourg

African favourites at a wintery challenge in Diekirch

Men's podium at 2012 ING Eurocross meeting in Diekirch: runner-up Albert Rop, winner Japheth Korir and Tasama Dame (Rosch Kohl)Men's podium at 2012 ING Eurocross meeting in Diekirch: runner-up Albert Rop, winner Japheth Korir and Tasama Dame (Rosch Kohl) © Copyright

A tough challenge awaits the competitors at ING Eurocross in in the Luxembourg town of Diekirch. With the wintery conditions currently sweeping much of Europe and a forecast that includes snow or sleet, this could become a very demanding IAAF Cross Country Permit Meeting on Sunday (27).

Kenyan youngster Albert Rop will be among the favourites in the men’s 10.2km event while Ethiopia’s Almaz Ayana of Ethiopia could be the one to beat in the women’s 5.35km race.

Men’s Race: Can the Moroccans challenge Rop, Kimutai and Kibet?

Rop, 18, knows the Diekirch course from a year ago, when he placed a close second behind his compatriot Japhet Korir who sadly, will not return to defend his title.

His run 12 months ago was a prelude to a fine summer on the track and Rop improved his 5000m best to 13:01.91.

Two of Albert Rop’s strongest rivals in Diekirch should be fellow Kenyans, Dickson Kimutai and Alex Kibet. The pair recently showed good form at a New Year’s Eve race in Trier, Germany, where Kimutai finished second in 22:43 over 8km on the roads, coming home two seconds ahead of third-placed Kibet.

Kibet has also done well in another recent IAAF Cross Country Permit Meeting, taking second place in Brussels in December.

Returning to Diekirch again is Onesphore Nkunzimana, who has won this event three times in the past: in 2005, 2007 and 2010. The 28 year-old from Burundi finished 10th at the 2006 IAAF World Cross Country Championships but has not been able to find his best form on the surface in the last two years. Nevertheless, Nkunzimana did produce a 5000m personal best of 13:07.57 last summer.

It looks more likely that the toughest challenge for the Kenyans will come either from Ethiopia’s Melaku Belachew, who has a half marathon best of 1:01:19, or from a strong group of Moroccans.

First to mention is El Hassan El Abbassi, who will run for the third time in a row in Diekirch. In 2011, he turned in an impressive performance, winning the race. A year ago he had to settle for sixth.

Mohamed Moustaoui’s preferred distance on the track is the 1500m and he made the London 2012 Olympic Games semifinals in that event. However, his 5000m best of 13:22.61 suggests that he could do well over longer distances as well.

Morocco will also be represented by two good steeplechasers in Diekirch: Hicham Sigueni was third at the 2012 World Junior Championships and has a best of 8:21.78 while Abdelhalim Zahraoui is slightly faster with 8:18.83 and was fifth in Diekirch a year ago.

Women’s Race: Ethiopia’s Ayana the one to beat

Almaz Ayana looks to be the clear favourite in the women’s race. The 21-year-old Ethiopian, who ran a world junior 3000m steeplechase record in 2010 with 9:22.51, improved to 14:57.97 over 5000m in Brussels last summer so the race distance in Diekirch should suit her nicely.

Turkey’s Binnaz Uslu might turn out to be the strongest challenger for Ayana.

Uslu has plenty of experience in cross country racing. In 2010, she had won the silver medal at the SPAR European Cross Country Championships and is also a strong steeplechaser, having 9:24.06 to her name from 2011.

Two other runners who could do well on Sunday are Ethiopia’s Mestawet Tadessa  and Kenya’s Gladys Cheboi.

Tadesse, the 2004 World Cross Country Championships junior women’s bronze medallist, was fourth in Diekirch a year ago while Cheboi has achieved 1:11:09 in the half marathon.

Jörg Wenig for the IAAF