Kenenisa Bekele who on his last visit to Dublin a decade ago claimed both the IAAF World Cross Country long and short course titles can look towards a stiffer test when facing four of Europe’s top runners in the SPAR Great Ireland Run on Sunday 15 April.
The SPAR Great Ireland Run is an IAAF Silver Label Road Race.
Bekele would normally be considered the favourite but in his first race since a disappointing 11th position at the Bupa Edinburgh Cross Country in January, there is global interest about whether that was just an off-day hiccup and if he can now regain the ascendancy in a career which has arguably christened him as the world’s greatest ever cross country runner and one of the all-time best distance running exponents.
It will be no pushover for the reigning Olympic 5000 metres and 10,000m champion who faces the highly experienced Spanish trio of Jesus Espana, Chema Martinez and particularly Ayad Lamdassem in the 10 kilometres race at Dublin’s Phoenix Park.
With Italy's 2010 European 10,000m bronze medallist Daniele Meuci also in the line-up, the strong European contingent will all be chasing his scalp in what promises to be an intriguing race.
Bekele, who last month set another milestone in his outstanding career when surpassing the feat of Finland’s Paavo Nurmi (2849 days) for holding the World 5000m and 10,000m records in his possession for the longest period, says he has trained extremely hard since his Edinburgh setback.
The 29-year-old has shed the two or three kilos of excess weight he was carrying during his demise in Edinburgh and while is very positive although cautiously on his arrival in Dublin on Friday was refusing to fully commit himself to a repeat performance of his Olympic victories.
Bekele with an abundance of other talented Ethiopian athletes also determined to fulfil their Olympic dreams, said of another double: "I'm preparing really well to do it but I don't know yet, I still have to decide.”
"I have to run in the qualifying races and make a decision later. We'll see what happens as the season gets going."
Gaining strength rather than speed training has been his major task in the last three months and the athlete’s agent Jos Hermens believes a tough road race before he embarks on his track season in Doha in mid-May will give a strong indication of his shape.
"My training has been going well and I have lost the extra weight that I was carrying," said Bekele. "So it is very good that I can come here and have a hard race. We'll see how it goes but I'm feeling good."
Certainly he will have no time to relax against Espana who is defending his SPAR Great Ireland Run crown and preceded Mo Farah as European 5000m gold medallist, as well as Martinez who is a past Euro 10,000m title holder.
However Lamdassem of the three Spaniards is currently the man in form and after a great winter season where he won the European Cross Country silver medal then three weeks later beat the gold medallist on that occasion Atelaw Bekele in Edinburgh, sees his Dublin outing as very important.
“Ayad (Lamdassem) is a very determined athlete and his major early season target is to gain the Olympic 10,000m qualifying time in Bilbao in a few weeks’ time,” said his agent Miguel Mostaza.
“At the same time he and the other two guys are looking forward to running against Bekele and I am certain a great race will be on the cards."
Mark Kenneally who holds the Olympic marathon qualifying time and will run a leg of the Games’ Torch Relay when it comes to Dublin will carry Irish hopes while the top Briton in the race will be Nick McCormick recently returned from a training camp in Australia.
WOMEN’s race – Purdue returns to defend
Charlotte Purdue a superb winner of last year’s SPAR Great Ireland Run is returning to defend her title along with fellow Briton Gemma Steel whose career has come on leaps and bounds since finishing runner up on that occasion.
Purdue despite her small frame has one of the biggest hearts in UK athletics and not surprisingly is reckoned to have the potential to follow in the footsteps of the legendary Paula Radcliffe.
The 20-year-old will know Steel is the opponent to beat but will also be wary of fellow British international Helen Clitheroe winner of the 2011 Bupa Great Manchester Run over 10km.
France’s Christelle Daunay, the very experienced three-time Olympian Aniko Kalovics from Hungary, and Marta Estepan of Spain, should also be in the mix at the race which has been elevated to IAAF Silver Label status.
Linda Byrne, and Maria McCambridge who both hold the Olympic marathon qualifying standard will be determined to produce good displays on home soil but Ava Hutcheson another Irish woman with the Games standard at that distance, has after suffering all week pulled out with 'flu.
Dave Martin for the IAAF