24 NOV 2006 Preview Llodio, Spain

Tariku Bekele set to strike again in Llodio - PREVIEW

Tariku Bekele winning the 2005 Cross Internacional Valle de Llodio (Pedro Agustín)Tariku Bekele winning the 2005 Cross Internacional Valle de Llodio (Pedro Agustín) © Copyright

The 23rd   edition of the ‘Cross Internacional Valle de Llodio, the second meeting of the current IAAF Cross Country permit season, will take place this Sunday (26 Nov).

Race organiser Javier Aparicio has assembled a vast array of talent including last year’s victors Ethiopia’s Tariku Bekele and Hungary’s Aniko Kalovics. To the delight of the knowledgeable crowd that every year gather in Llodio the circuit is expected to be muddy which adds a plus of interest and will make the event even more spectacular.

MEN – Tariku Bekele versus Feleke, Beijing rematch

For the third consecutive year Kenenisa Bekele’s younger brother Tariku will be on show in Llodio. He was out-sprinted by fellow Ethiopian Gebre Gebremariam in 2004 but grabbed a fine win last year ahead of Uganda’s Boniface Kiprop.

Bekele jr, still 19, will arrive from Addis Abeba ready to make his cross country debut this season.

But despite his huge improvement on the track this year – an impressive 7:29.11 and 12:53.81 clockings in the 3000 and 5000m respectively – winning again won’t be an easy task for Tariku as he will face stiff opposition from other renowned African specialists such as his fellow Ethiopian Abrehem Cherkos Feleke, the Eritrean pair of Ali Abdallah and Yonas Kifle plus the powerful Kenyan contingent comprising John Kibowen, Peter Kamais, Simon Arusei and Kiprono Menjo.

It might be still early days but Abrehem Feleke's World Youth 3000m title in 2005 and World Junior 5000m silver medal suggest the tiny 17-year-old might be the next Ethiopian to explode onto the world senior stage.

The last Bekele-Feleke encounter took place precisely at the World Junior Championships held in Beijing last August where Bekele took gold and Feleke completed a 1-2 for Ethiopia. Sunday’s race will provide a good chance for Feleke to avenge that defeat.

The Madrid-based Eritrean duo of Ali Abdallah and Yonas Kifle – both among the top-ten at this year’s Worlds XC in Fukuoka – should also be in the hunt for victory while Kenya’s Peter Kamais is fresh from two commanding wins in Oeiras, Portugal, last 11 November when the IAAF Cross Country permit season got underway and last Sunday in Torres Vedras. Earlier in the season (15 October) Kamais also succeeded at a 10km race in Rennes (France) ahead of Ethiopia’s Abebe Dinkesa, 28:23 and 28:38 their respective times.

A former (1998 & 2000) World Cross Country champion in the short race like John Kibowen, Simon Arusei, winner in Quintanar and runner-up in Soria, and a 27:29.45 10,000m runner named Kiprono Menjo, also third in Oeiras and second in Torres Vedras, complete the Kenyan charge on Sunday.

Spain’s double (2003 & 2004) European Cross Country silver medallist Juan Carlos de la Ossa is still battling for fitness after a below-par beginning of cross country season due to injury. The reigning European 10,000m bronze medallist will turn 30 years of age tomorrow Saturday (25 November) and will be accompanied by his training partner Ricardo Serrano and Portugal’s Fernando Silva in the nearly unreachable purpose of threatening the African dominance.

WOMEN – Melkamu, the star name

The women’s race will be very much a matter of Europe versus Africa. Ethiopia’s reigning double (long and short) World Cross Country bronze medallist Meselech Melkamu is the most notable starter in the star-studded women’s field although her compatriot Wude Ayalew Yimer who finished fifth in Fukuoka – long race – promises to be a big threat as the in-form Ethiopian has already two victories to her credit earlier in November (Quintanar and Torredonjimeno permits).

The strong African challenge in Llodio also includes Kenya’s Vivian Cheruiyot who snatched an overwhelming win in Soria last Sunday.

Kalovics, Yelling, Rosa, Morató…a real European warm up!

On the European side Britain’s 2004 European Cross Country champion Hayley Yelling will have the opportunity to assess her level on the world scene. The Briton had a good win in Birmingham (UK) over 6km last 28 October and will take on Hungary’s Aniko Kalovics, Portugal’s Analia Rosa and Spain’s Rosa Morató in what promises to be a dress rehearsal for the European Cross Country in San Giorgio Su Legnano (Italy) in two weeks time.

Kalovics proved to be in stellar form very recently (12 November) by taking a convincing victory in Tilburg (The Netherlands) – EAA Permit – and will try to repeat her 2005 success.

After quite a rainy week in Llodio a muddy surface might be an advantage for the 2003 European cross country bronze medallist. Portugal’s Rosa came runner-up to Uganda’s World 3000m Steeplechase champion Docus Inzikuru in Oeiras and took a clear win in Torres Vedras last Sunday while Morató will carry the local hopes following her three podium places in a row earlier this month always on Spanish soil.

Emeterio Valiente for the IAAF