Tariku Bekele wins 2008 XC in Llodio, Spain (José Montes) © Copyright
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T. Bekele, Linet Masai, Jepkorir - Alcobendas unveils formidable line-up

Alcobendas, SpainEthiopia’s Tariku Bekele and the Kenyan pair of Linet Masai and Eunice Jepkorir will be the marquee athletes at the 27th ‘Cross Internacional de la Constitución’ - an EA Permit Meeting - to be held in Alcobendas, on the outskirts of Madrid on Sunday (7). These fast-improving African stars should provide a great spectacle on a demanding and undulating circuit.

Men's race – T.Bekele to strike again

Tariku Bekele is fresh from a seven-second win from Kenya’s Vincent Chepkor at last Sunday’s EA permit in Llodio; the 21-year-old will be looking for his second success in Alcobendas following his 2006 victory. The reigning World indoor 3000m champion travelled directly from Llodio to Alcobendas and has spent the whole week training in the Spanish capital.

Friday afternoon should be a joyful time for the youngest athletics fans from Alcobendas since Tariku will share a training session with them. The former (2006) World Junior 5000m champion made a major breakthrough on the senior scene as early as November 2004 when - still as a 17-year-old - managed to defeat Kenya’s five-time World Cross Country champion Paul Tergat at the IAAF XC  permit in Oeiras.

Trying to deny Bekele the top spot will be the Kenyan pair of Mike Kiptoo and Kiprono Menjo, the former competing again in Spain after a respectable fourth place in Llodio while Menjo – who is married to Eunice Jepkorir – has dipped under the 27:10.00 barrier in the 10,000m for the last two seasons.

Ethiopia’s Gebre Gebremariam will also be on show exactly two months after his Half Marathon debut in South Shields where the former (2004) double (long and short races) World Cross Country silver medallist clocked a promising 61:29 time for the runner-up place after a slightly lack lustre summer campaign when he couldn’t manage to make the Ethiopian team for the Olympics despite a fine 10,000m performance of 27:20.65.

To strengthen even more the African dominance in Alcobendas over the 10,100m course, elite athletes manager José Ramón García has also brought together Morocco’s Abdelhadi El Mouaziz, the Eritrean Kidane Tadese plus Zimbabwe’s Cuthbert Nyasango; the latter two are based in Madrid and train under the guidance of Jerónimo Bravo whose most well-known protégée is the 2007 World Cross Country and World Half Marathon champion Zersenay Tadese whose younger brother Kidane – who ran a remarkable 27:06.16 10,000m PB last summer – will try to bounce back from his below par (12th) performance in Llodio where reportedly he fell twice into the mud.

In the absence of the six Spanish athletes selected for next weekend’s European Championships in Brussels, local hopes rest with the 37-year-old former (2005) European XC medallist Alberto García, 2002 European 10,000m third placed José Ríos - who captured the victory last weekend at the ‘Jean Bouin’ - a 9550m road race held in Barcelona - plus the reigning European 5000m champion Jesús España and his younger brother Francisco.

Women’s race – Who can stop Masai?

Would anyone bet against Kenya’s Linet Masai on the women’s 5900m event? Following her massive 40 advantage over the in-form Portuguese Ines Monteiro in Llodio, the reigning World XC bronze medallist should be regarded as the hot favourite despite the presence of her fellow Kenyan Eunice Jepkorir. Incidentally, Masai celebrates her 19th birthday today (5).

Jepkorir grabbed the silver medal at the Beijing Olympics over her specialist event, the 3000m Steeplechase to become the third fastest woman in history with a 9:07.41 clocking to her credit and she is the only non-Russian having ever ducked under the 9.10 barrier. In addition, the 26-year-old Kenyan is the defending champion in Alcobendas and so she should be eager to retain the title.

For the minor place on the podium watch out for Ethiopia’s Werknesh Kidane, who is a former (2003) World 10,000m silver medallist while the Moroccan Spain-based pair of Soud Kambouch (28th at the Edinburgh Worlds) and Aicha Bani (ninth in Llodio) should complete a quality top-five.

At the moment, weather forecasters predict a wet day on Sunday with a 90% likelihood of rain, no wind and a high temperature of 14ºC at race time.

Emeterio Valiente for the IAAF