The 10th Cross Internacional de Atapuerca, the second of three Spanish races scheduled for the IAAF Cross Country Permit Series 2013-14, will take place next Sunday (17).
Despite facing tough economic conditions, the organisers have nonetheless brought together a star-studded line-up including the whole podium from last March’s IAAF World Cross Country Championships men’s race: Kenya’s champion Japhet Korir, Ethiopia’s silver medallist Imane Merga and Eritrea’s Teklemariam Medhin.
Korir provided a major surprise in taking the senior men’s title to become the youngest ever senior champion in Bydgoszcz but did not shine on the track this summer and failed to compete at World Championships.
Likewise Merga did not fulfill his hopes this summer and will be looking to prove himself on the circuit where he has won for the last two years.
Arguably one of the most consistent cross country specialists in recent years, his track campaign started in style with a fine 10,000m in 26:57.33 in the Swedish town of Sollentuna but he could not do better than 12th in Moscow over 25 laps of the track.
More recently, Merga finished fifth in 1:02:40 at the Lisbon Half Marathon in early October.
As for Medhin, the tall Eritrean failed to finish the 10,000 in Moscow, his best performance of the summer being a 27:19:97 outing in Eugene. His last race also came in Lisbon, where he beat Merga with 1:02:05 time for third.
There will also be another two top-seven athletes from Bydgoszcz, Uganda’s Timothy Toroitich, who was fifth, and Eritrea’s seventh-placed Goiton Kifke; the former will line-up along his compatriot Dickson Huru, the winner at the Soria IAAF Cross Country Permit meeting last Sunday.
The Kenyan pair of reigning London 2012 Olympic Games 3000m Steeplechase bronze medallist Abel Mutai and the in-form Emmanuel Bett should also fight for the top spots on Sunday.
Bett is fresh from a convincing win at the Bupa Great South Run 10 Miles in 48:03 last month.
The top Spanish runners will also be in contention in Atapuerca with the field including all the eight athletes who took second to ninth positions in Soria: Alemayehu Bezabeh, Mohamed Marhum, Antonio Jimenez, Abdelaziz Merzougui Antonio Abadia, Ivan Fernandez, Daniel Mateo and Javier Guerra.
Bezabeh aside, they all will be looking for a place on the Spanish team contesting the Europeans Athletics Cross Country Championships in Belgrade on 9 December.
Thrilling Kenyan v Ethiopian women’s clash on the cards
Similarly to the men’s event, the event organizers targeted gathering together the Bydgoszcz women’s podium on Sunday and they actually managed that feat a couple of weeks ago before they were told that Kenya’s current World Cross Country champion Emily Chebet had been drafted in to her national team to compete in the Chiba Ekiden on 23 November.
However, the field assembled for Sunday is of a very high calibre thanks to the presence of the Ethiopian duo of Hiwot Ayalew and Belaynesh Oljira, who took the silver and bronze medals in Bydgoszcz last March.
The former had a busy summer season as she competed no less than ten times in her specialist event, the 3000m Steeplechase, where she just missed a medal in Moscow when finishing fourth while Oljira bagged the 10,000m bronze medal in the Russian capital.
The 2009 World 10,000m champion Linet Masai didn’t make the Kenyan team for Moscow but might be able to take advantage of her circuit knowledge as she already took honours in Atapuerca two years ago and was second last year.
Masai will not be the only top Kenyan on show as she will have the company of Bydgoszcz’s sixth-placed Janet Kisa, fresh from two runner-up performances at a low-key road races in Europe last month, and Mercy Cherono, the 2013 World Championships 5000m silver medallist.
Watch out too for Bahrain’s Shitaye Eshete, a creditable fourth place finisher in Bydgoszcz who also placed sixth in the Moscow 10,000m, as well as Ethiopia’s Marta Tigabea, the victor of the opening leg of this season’s IAAF Cross Country Permit series in Soria last weekend.
The European response to the African contingent should come from Great Britain’s 2012 Olympics Games 5000 and 10,000m eighth place finisher Julia Bleasdale. Italy’s Elena Romagnolo and Nadia Ejjafini should also be in contention for a top-10 finish on Sunday, alongside the leading Spaniards led by Alba Garcia, who was third in Soria a week ago.
Weather forecasters announce a rainy and windy day with the thermometer hardly reaching seven degrees Celsius.
Emeterio Valiente for the IAAF