San Sebastián, SpainGebre Gebremariam will head a powerful bunch of African athletes in the ‘49th Cross Internacional de Lasarte’ to be held this Sunday, 25 January over a 10,000m course.
The 19-year-old Ethiopian, who is the reigning World Cross Country bronze medallist (long race), will attempt to make amends for his defeat here last year by Eritrea’s Tadesse Zersenay, who also returns for Sunday's race.
“Just one tenth of a second covered them last year so our main goal for this edition was another face to face between Gebremariam and Zersenay”, proudly confirmed the elite athletes coordinator, Miguel Ángel Mostaza.
Gebremariam, who is also the 2002 World Junior 10,000m champion, captured two massive wins in Fuensalida and Valladolid earlier this month before finishing runner-up to compatriot Kenenisa Bekele in Itálica last Sunday.
Zersenay on the other hand has yet to clinch his first victory this season at cross country.
Stiff challenge for leading duo
However, it won’t be easy for this pair, as they will face stiff opposition from Kenya’s Patrick Ivuti, Uganda’s Boniface Kiprop and Tanzania’s Fabian Joseph.
These three runners have already been successful this cross country season on Spanish soil with Joseph taking first in Llodio on 30 November, Ivuti victorious in Yecla (14 December) and Kiprop winning in Amorebieta (4 Janauary).
All five of San Sebastián’s world-class cast were on show last weekend. Gebremariam, Kiprop and Zersenay came second, fourth and fifth respectively at the IAAF race in Itálica. Whereas Patrick Ivuti, 2003 World Cross silver medallist, faded to seventh at the Kenyan Armed Forces championships over a minute behind five times World Cross champion Paul Tergat, and the youngest of the crop, Fabian Joseph, took second in Maliaño (Spain) two seconds adrift of Kenyan steeplechaser Thomas Kiplitan.
Mexico’s Alejandro Suárez could well be regarded as the main outsider; 12th at the Worlds in Paris at 5000m, Suárez will be running for the third consecutive weekend in Spain, with a fifth place in Valladolid and a third position in Maliaño being his previous results.
Spanish hopes will rest on Alejandro Gómez, who will turn 37 next April. An accomplished cross country runner, Gómez was sixth at the Worlds in Stavanger (Norway) no less than fifteen years ago (1989)!
Analia Rosa takes on Sally Barsosio
The women’s race will be contested over 5624m. Portugal’s Analia Rosa and 1997 World 10,000m champion Sally Barsosio of Kenya will start as hot favourites. Rosa, 27, will be aiming to break her run of three third places which she managed earlier this month at races in Amorebieta, Valladolid and Itálica.
For her part, Barsosio, still only 25, finished fifth last Saturday at the Kenyan Armed Forces championships over 8000m, and battles now to rejoin the cream of women’s distance running.
Kenya’s Rahab Ndungu, Britain’s Susan Partridge and the Portuguese pair of Marina Bastos, and Helena Sampaio will also be in contention, while Jacqueline Martín, sixth in Itálica last Sunday, should be the first Spaniard home.
Impressive race history
There have been many illustrious and victorious names at this competition in the past that we should underline, such as 10,000 double Olympic champion and World record holder Ethiopia’s Haile Gebrselassie, ‘the Emperor’, who succeeded exactly ten years ago (1994), his fellow countryman Mamo Wolde, a victor here twice (1963 &1964), Portugal’s 1984 Olympic Marathon champion Carlos Lopes (1976), Britain’s David Bedford, winner in 1973, and Czech legend Emil Zatopek, who took honours in 1958. On the women’s side it’s worth mentioning Ethiopia’s twice Olympic 10,000m champion Derartu Tulu, a double winner (1996 & 1997).