All smiles - Mo Farah takes his first European outdoor gold in the Barcelona 10,000m (Getty Images) © Copyright

Masai versus Cheruiyot and Farah versus Lebid plus many more in Edinburgh’s Holyrood Park – Preview IAAF Cross Country Permit Meeting

Looking for the greatest annual challenge in cross country running apart from the World Championships Scotland is the place to go. On Saturday afternoon the Bupa Great Edinburgh International Cross Country event will be staged at Holyrood Park. The race, which belongs to the series of IAAF Cross Country Permit Meetings, will have a different format this year.

For the first time a men’s team event is included into the programme. A British senior and an Under-23 team take on senior teams of the USA and continental Europe. The event will be held over 8km and will see a clash between Britain’s Mo Farah and Ukraine’s Sergey Lebid. While the usual 9km men’s event of recent years was scrapped the 4km race, which used to be a more domestic affair, is now opened. With Olympic, World and European champions confirmed to run this promises to become a thrilling race. Meanwhile the women’s 6km race remains unchanged and will see a clash of Kenya’s World champions Vivian Cheruiyot and Linet Masai. The Bupa Great Edinburgh International Cross Country will be shown live for 90 minutes on BBC One from 1 pm.

Watch the action live on BBC One from 13:00 to 14:00 UK time

6km women’s event with Cheruiyot and Masai

It will be Cheruiyot versus Masai in the women’s 6km race. The two Kenyans had famously upset the Ethiopian favourites at the Berlin World Championships in 2009, taking the golds at 5000m (Cheruiyot) and 10,000m (Masai). When they have clashed so far it was mostly on the track and in either a 3000 or a 5000m race. With one exception Cheruiyot was always ahead. But it is different so far in Cross Country, where Masai’s endurance was superior. She was ahead of Cheruiyot in four out of five races. Two years ago Masai won the Edinburgh Cross Country while Cheruiyot was sixth. But the 5000 m specialist has improved in cross country in 2010, when she was second in Edinburgh and then won a race in Nairobi, where she was ahead of Masai. Just recently Cheruiyot showed fine form, when she took the New Year’s Eve race in Bolzano (Italy).

But Cheruiyot and Masai would be foolish if they would just watch each other on Saturday. Because at least three others look capable of producing an upset: Kenya’s Milcah Chemos is the reigning Commonwealth Games champion in the 3000m Steeplechase, 19-year-old Genzebe Dibaba (Ethiopia) is the younger sister of Olympic champion Tirunesh Dibaba and Jessica Augusto (Portugal) has won the European Cross Country Championship in December. Genzebe Dibaba will have good memories of Holyrood Park. Two years ago she took the Junior gold medal at the World Cross Country Championships in Edinburgh. In 2009 she defended this title and in 2010 she became the global junior champion in the 5000m. Augusto will be keen to build on her success in Great Britain. In September 2009 she took the Great North Run a bith further south in Newcastle. Saturday’s race will be a real challenge for Great Britain’s Stephanie Twell. The 21-year-old – three time European Junior Cross Country champion – finished fifth in Edinburgh a year ago.

4km men’s event with Kiprop, Kipruto and Kipchoge

Plenty of pace and a thrilling race that could well go to the wire is expected in the new 4km race, which will be the first of the three elite events on Saturday. Former World Junior Cross Country champion Eliud Kipchoge (Kenya) had more success in the 5000m track races in recent years than in cross country. But the 4km event could well suit the reigning Commonwealth Games 5000m champion, who had placed third in Edinburgh a year ago (in the 9km event).

Eliud Kipchoge’s main opponents come from shorter distances. Fellow-Kenyan Asbel Kiprop is the Olympic 1500m champion and Brimin Kipruto (Kenya) had taken the Steeplechase gold in Beijing in 2008. Kiprop has shown his ability in the cross country, when he took the World Junior Championship in 2007. His speed will be something his rivals have to be aware of on Saturday. Since there are two barriers on the course, which have to be jumped, this might play into the hands of Kipruto.

To add more middle distance speed to this cross country event organisers have also invited the reigning European 1500m champion Arturo Casado (Spain) plus former Olympic 1500m bronze medallist Rui Silva (Portugal).

8km men’s team challenge sees Farah versus Lebid

Duels between Britain’s Mo Farah and Ukraine’s Sergey Lebid have produced a string of highlights in recents years in European cross country running. Now these two athletes lead their teams as captains, when the Team Challenge will see its first edition in Edinburgh. Each of the four participating men’s teams – Great Britain, Europe and the USA plus a British Under 23/Under 20 selection – will have nine athletes competing on the 8km course. Placings of each individual runner will be added with the best six athletes of each team scoring. The team with the lowest number of total points will be the winner. So the format is similar to the team competition of the World Cross Country Championships.

With the British public very sensitive for national team events organisers hope to provide the right event for their appetite regarding both: spectators coming to the course in Holyrood Park as well as those watching the action live on BBC One. Additionally the team event gives younger runners the chance to gain experience in a high-class event.

Mo Farah, the double European champion from Barcelona (5000 and 10,000m), did not competed at last month’s European Cross Country Championships. It was in Portugal, where Lebid improved his unique gold meal haul at these championships to nine. Now the two face in Edinburgh. The silver and bronze medallists from the Europeans, Ayad Lamdassam (Spain) and Youssef El Kalai (Portugal), will also feature in the strong continental team. The US team will be led by 24-year-old Galen Rupp, who is regarded as one of America’s most promising long distance talents. At the World Championships in Berlin in 2009 he had placed eighth in the 10,000m final.

Jörg Wenig for the IAAF