22 FEB 2013 Preview Albufeira, Portugal

Defending champions Menjo and Jepkoech return to Albufeira

A familiar sight in Albufeira - Josphat Menjo taking victory No. 4 (Marcelino Almeida)A familiar sight in Albufeira - Josphat Menjo taking victory No. 4 (Marcelino Almeida) © Copyright

Despite having to face some problems with the budget for this year, the 36th Almond Blossom Cross Country, an IAAF Cross Country Permit Meeting, is looking forward to an exciting day of racing on Sunday (24).

Organisers will this weekend also reveal their plans for the 2014 edition, where they hope to combine the European Champion Clubs Cup Cross Country with the event.

But for now the immediate focus is on this weekend where last year’s winners Josphat Menjo and Gorreti Jepkoech will return to defend their titles.

Men’s race – will Menjo take his fifth victory?

The men’s start list includes four of the athletes who finished in the top five at this race last year. Josphat Menjo of Kenya, who has a 10,000m personal best of 26:56.74, has won four times in the last five editions of this race, making him the favourite to win again.

But he will also face the two men who pushed him all the way last year – Mohamed Burka of Ethiopia and Manuel Damião, the 2012 Portuguese cross-country champion.

Other competitors expected to challenge include Kenyans Cyprian Kotut, who finished fifth last year and boasts a Half-marathon PB of 62:25, Philemon Kemei, fourth in the junior race at the 2000 World Cross, and Ethiopian Melaku Belachew, winner of the Pune Half Marathon last December with 61:19.

Women’s race – rematch of 2012

As is the case with the men’s race, the Almond Blossom Cross Country will welcome back the top four women from last year. Twelve months ago not much was known about Kenyan Gorreti Jepkoech, but she came to Albufeira and won the race by 24 seconds ahead of Latvia’s Jelena Prokopcuka, the two-time New York City Marathon winner.

The Portugal-based athlete will try to win again this year but she will face tough opposition in the form of Ana Dulce Felix. The European 10,000m champion finished third last year in Albufeira, but is a former winner of the event and took bronze when the European Cross Country Championships was held here in 2010.

Also among the front runners will be Kenya’s Eunice Jepkorir, the 2008 Olympic 3000m Steeplechase silver medallist, and Russia’s Marathon specialist Marina Kovaleva.

In total, the event expects more than 3500 runners across the various races on Sunday.

António Manuel Fernandes for the IAAF