Tamirat Tola winning at the 2016 Cross Internacional de Italica (Foto ANOC) © Copyright
Preview Elgoibar, Spain

Tola hopes to maintain momentum in Elgoibar

Organisers of the Cross Internacional Juan Muguerza have once again assembled a classy line-up for the IAAF Cross Country Permit meeting in the Spanish town of Elgoibar on Sunday (24).

Ethiopia’s Tamirat Tola is arguably one of the most in-form distance runners this winter. He won the Great Ethiopian Run in November and opened his cross-country campaign with a victory in Alcobendas at the end of that month. He followed that one month later by winning the Boclassic New Year’s Eve race in Italy, while more recently he won last week’s IAAF Cross Country Permit meeting in Seville.

But the 24-year-old rising star will face strong opposition from Aweke Ayalew. The Bahraini athlete was the last man to defeat Tola, at the Venta de Banos event on 20 December. With only one second separating both men on that occasion, Tola should be eager to take revenge from that narrow loss and keep on his winning streak on Sunday.

Ayalew – who also won at the IAAF Cross Country Permit meeting in Antrim – will be looking for his third victory on Spanish soil this season following wins in Yecla and Venta de Banos. He will be joined by his compatriot Hassan El Habbassi whose 36 years of age proved no barrier when finishing a creditable fourth in Seville last weekend.

World steeplechase silver medallist Conseslus Kipruto travelled from Seville to Elgoibar on Monday but his back problems seem to be more serious than he thought. The Kenyan, who won here in 2013, has decided to return home as a precautionary measure.

The always consistent Ugandan contingent will be compounded by Timothy Toroitich and Moses Kibet. In Seville last weekend, Toroitich achieved his fifth podium finish of the cross-country season, while 2009 world junior cross-country bronze medallist Kibet had to settle for sixth.

The Spanish quartet of Ayad Lamdassem, Ilias Fifa, Roberto Alaiz and Toni Abadia will be trying their best to challenge the quintet of favourites. Two-time European cross-country silver medallist Lamdassem will be making his third appearance of 2016 after finishing 14th in Edinburgh and sixth in Amorebieta. Both he and Fifa just missed out on a medal at last month’s European Cross Country Championships, finishing fourth and fifth respectively.

After finishing a respectable eighth in Seville, national cross-country champion Abadia will once again aim to be the top Spanish finisher.

Cheptai to keep Ethiopians at bay

The women’s 7.7km event will feature no fewer than three of the top seven finishers from the IAAF World Cross Country Championships Guiyang 2015 in the guise of the Ethiopian duo of Netsanet Gudeta and Alemitu Heroye plus Kenya’s Irene Cheptai.

Based on their performances in Seville last Sunday, Cheptai looks to be the woman to beat. The 23-year-old finished third there, comfortably ahead of Haroye and Gudeta. Naturally, the two Ethiopians will be aiming to bounce back from their relatively below-par outing in Seville.

Uganda’s Juliet Chekwel and Spain’s Trihas Gebre will be aiming for a top-five spot while European steeplechase bronze medallist Diana Martin is gradually rounding into form. The same applies to Romania’s Ancuta Bobocel who finished seventh in Seville, just ahead of Martin.

In addition to the elite events, there will be a strong junior race with representatives from Portugal, Italy, France and Great Britain in the fight for the Mamo Wolde prize, an award created in 2003 in memory of Ethiopia’s legendary two-time Olympic marathon champion. He is fondly remembered in Elgoibar after winning in 1963, 1964, 1967 and 1968.

Other notable past winners in Elgoibar include two multiple world cross-country champions: Kenya’s Paul Tergat, who won in 1999, and Ethiopia’s Kenenisa Bekele back in 2003.

The list of women’s winners features the likes of Olympic champions Fernanda Ribeiro (1995) and Derartu Tulu (1996) plus Kenya’s three-time world cross-country champion Edith Masai.

This year’s race will pay tribute to Britain’s Eamonn Martin on the silver jubilee of his victory in Elgoibar back in 1991. Martin is chief of the British expedition, which includes Adam Hickey and Jonathan Taylor among others.

Weather forecasters predict a sunny day with temperatures ranging between 16-18C with no chance of rain.

Emeterio Valiente for the IAAF