Regardless of Spain’s well-publicised economic crisis, the ‘31st Cross Internacional de Itálica’ in Santiponce (Seville) on Sunday (20) – the seventh leg of this season’s IAAF Cross Country Permit series – will still be a high calibre event and sees the Kenyan pair of Conseslus Kipruto and Magdalene Masai arrive in Andalucía fresh from wins on Spanish soil earlier this month.
Rising star Kipruto to strike again?
The men’s 10.8km event should be a rematch of last Sunday’s race in the Basque town of Elgoibar as Kipruto and his compatriot Emmanuel Bett, second last weekend, will clash again.
World junior steeplechase champion Kipruto arrived in Seville on Thursday after a quick trip back home to his European base in the Netherlands while Bett, the fastest man in the world over 10,000m in 2012, remained in Spain and travelled south to Seville, alongside Mercy Cherono, on Wednesday.
A third world-class Kenyan on show on Sunday will be Jairus Birech, whose 2012 campaign saw him dip under the 8:10 barrier in the 3000m steeplechase no fewer than six times, topped by his 8:03.43 outing at the Diamond League meeting in Paris. The 20-year-old Birech narrowly missed selection for the Olympics as he finished fourth at the Kenyan trials in Nairobi.
An always solid Eritrean squad is comprised of Kidane Tadese, Kiflom Sium and Amanuel Mesel. This triumvirate performed well at the Amorebieta race in Spain a fortnight ago. Mesel took the plaudits in Amorebieta and finished second there while Tadese seemed to be still a little short of his best form and came home fifth on that occasion with Sium – a fine 10th at the 2012 IAAF World Half Marathon Championships in Kavarna, Bulgaria, last October – finishing one place in front of him in fourth.
The African armada also includes Kenyan junior 10,000m champion and world youth 3000m champion William Malel Sitonik.
Local interest will be represented by the in-form Javier Guerra, fresh from a creditable sixth in Elgoibar, and Juan Carlos Higuero, the former 1500m star who is now moving up to the 5000m. Also looking for a good performance will be the Portuguese duo of Fernando Silva and the 36-year-old 2011 European cross-country bronze medallist Jose Rocha.
More Kenyan dominance in prospect
The women’s 8km contest also offers a quality field headed by the Kenyan pair of Mercy Cherono and Magdalene Masai, along with their compatriot Irine Chepet Cheptai.
The two-time world junior 3000m champion Cherono proved to be in fine form at the Venta de Banos race on 16 December, which she won in style. More recently, in Elgoibar last week, she came second only to Ethiopia’s resplendent Gelete Burka.
However, Cherono should face stiff opposition from Masai. The younger sister of the three-time world cross-country silver medallist Linet Masai was a convincing victor in Amorebieta two weeks ago and will be eager to capture another win on Sunday.
Diana Martin leads the domestic challenge. After finishing 10th at the European Cross Country Championships, she lowered her 10km career best on the roads to 32:31 at the San Silvestre Vallecana in Madrid on New Year’s Eve and she is now having a busy January, finishing third in Amorebieta and fifth in Elgoibar.
Ethiopia’s Trihas Gebre and Eritrea’s Eden Tesfalem are also worth watching out for while Great Britain’s Julia Bleasdale, the fastest European over 5000m last year and eighth in both the 5000m and 10,000m at the Olympics, is expected to have her first cross-country outing of the winter.
Weather forecasters predict a partially cloudy day on Sunday with the thermometer in the 12-14C range and a strong likelihood of rain.
Emeterio Valiente for the IAAF