Edinburgh, UKKenenisa Bekele, and comeback queen Hayley Yelling, will be joined by Tirunesh Dibaba in Edinburgh’s Holyrood Park on Saturday (9) to take on some of the world’s best mud-larks in fierce battles for supremacy over a challenging course in the BUPA Great Edinburgh International Cross Country.
Given the present state of the weather in the UK, cold temperatures and snow and ice rather than mud are likely to be the natural hazards that wait what is annually one of the strongest fields of runners assembled on the cross country circuit. At 0800hrs GMT this morning (7) the temperature in Edinburgh was recorded as being minus 10C.
BUPA Great Edinburgh International Cross Country is the fourth of twelve IAAF XC Permit races in the 2009/10 season
Bekele’s participation on Saturday marks his return to competition after his 5000 and 10,000m double on the track at the World Championships in Berlin last summer. This will be the first race for the eleven-time World XC champion since his victory on the track over 3000m at the World Athletics Final in Thessaloniki on 12 September.
Yelling will aspire to demonstrate that her surprise European Cross Country Championship victory last month - a year after her original competitive retirement - was no fluke. Dibaba for her part in the script will be keen to capitalise on the scintillating form that saw her whisk to a 15km World record** on the roads in November. The Ethiopian will be eager to prevail over Kenyan Vivian Cheruiyot, the woman who took the World 5000m crown last August when injury had relegated Dibaba to be a spectator.
Bekele, a former three-time winner of this race, will be making his fifth appearance in the Scottish capital and has spoken recently of his rejuvenation following the reunion with his preferred training partner, his brother Tariku. With the younger Ethiopian back from a year-long injury spell, the 27-year-old Kenenisa has found additional motivation and love for his running but may be feeling a little anxious ahead of what should be an arduous return to racing.
Bekele’s countryman, the reigning World Cross Country champion Gebre Gebremariam and Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge, the 2003 World 5000m champion who was the 2005 Edinburgh race victor, will provide stiff competition over the nine-kilometre race.
Gebremariam, 25, has won two of the first three IAAF permit races of the current season (Soria 29 Nov and Oeiras 21 Nov), while Kipchoge narrowly lost in yesterday’s Campaccio European XC permit race in San Giorgio su Legnano, Italy, to World Junior 5000m champion Abraham Cherkos.
Eight-times European Cross Country champion Sergiy Lebid – third in last month’s continental Championships – will lead the European challenge after a fifth place result yesterday in the same Campaccio race in Italy.
A domestic based 4km short-course race will also feature on the day’s activities; with European Cross Country silver medallist, Mo Farah moving down in distance to take on the 2008 and 2009 winner, Andy Baddeley.
A clash with Dibaba over the 6km route will be a formidable test for Yelling the newly-crowned European champion. The 35-year-old Briton will be hoping the home-crowd support can spur her onto another surprise performance but the maths teacher will have done her own private calculations about her chances against two of the biggest guns in the world of distance running.
Dibaba, the Olympic 5000m and 10,000m, is a four-time senior World Cross Country champion and prevailed in Edinburgh during the spring of 2005 in this event and took the World title over the same course in 2007. The 24-year-old will be tough to beat but if anyone can stop her it will be Vivian Cheruiyot. The graceful Kenyan is like Dibaba a former World Junior Cross Country gold medallist and following her exploits last summer, will undoubtedly be a contender.
The younger Dibaba, Genzebe is fast-improving on the senior international scene and will certainly be one to watch at the head of the pack, as well the home hopes Stephanie Twell and Freya Murray – the former making her debut on Scottish soil. An intriguing entrant is the British World 1500m silver-medallist, Lisa Dobriskey, who returns from a recent honeymoon in Italy.
Nicola Bamford for the IAAF
NOTE ** World record pending the usual ratification procedures