John Kibowen wins the 12km race at the 2005 Kenyan Armed Forces cross country championships (Okoth) © Copyright

The return of the “Almond Blossom” - PREVIEW

Albufeira, PortugalThe most important athletic event in the Algarve, which promotes the tasty almond blossom so characteristic of this southern area of Portugal returns to the IAAF circuit in 2005. The 28th Almond Blossom International Cross Country – IAAF permit – meeting takes places this Sunday in Albufeira, Algarve, Portugal (30 Jan).

After being cancelled for a year, due to financial constraints, the Almond Blossom International returns to the Algarve this year with an elite field in the men’s 10km race headed by 19 year-old Moses Mosop (KEN), who was 7th in the Athens Olympic 10,000m, John Kibowen (KEN), who was 5th in Olympic 5000m, and Morocco’s Abderrahim Goumri who was second in the last edition of the Almond Blossom race in 2003.

Kibowen, the former double World Cross Country short race champion is in particularly fine form at the moment having beaten the longer distance specialists at the recent Kenyan Armed Forces Cross Country.

In the women’s 6km race, Justyna Bak (POL) 2nd in the 2004 European Cross Country Championships, Nancy Kiprop (KEN) and Tegla Loroupe (KEN) are the main names. Former Olympic champion Fernanda Ribeiro, winner in 2003, is the top Portuguese runner.

“Having stopped was a bad thing for us” 

Lara Ramos, President of the Algarve Athletics Association and “father” of the competition confirmed that “having stopped for a year was quite bad for the event, in the way that several contacts...were lost”. Namely the “representatives of many athletes who had competed in Albufeira for several years. “But”, he said “the Almond Blossom Cross is standing again to dignify the Algarve and Portuguese Athletics.”

The race took place for a period of eight years in Loulé but this year is returning to its original birth place: the village of Açoteias. “I am very pleased to return to the home of the cross. It was in Açoteias that we started this nice story, 29 year’s ago. During this period we welcomed many of the top international runners. I am strongly convinced that this competition has given a great impulse to the Portuguese athletics.”

Hard course but good weather predicted

To make the return to Açoteias possible it was necessary to proceed with improvements on the course. “I believe that we have a nice course, even though it hasn’t that much grass.  At first sight it seems a very rapid one but the speed is only at face value. In fact it is quite demanding with hard up and down sections.”

The cold weather being felt all around Europe this week is supposed to come to an end this weekend and so neither rain or low temperatures are expected during the event.

So this is the picture for this year’s Almond Blossom International Cross, one of the thirteen meets which make up the 2004/2005 IAAF XC permit circuit. The competition programme also includes a regional school sports cross country as well as international and national events for disabled athletes.

Paulo Costa for IAAF