In an eagerly-awaited showdown, Ugandans Joshua Cheptegei and Jacob Kiplimo will face off at the ‘Cross Internacional de Itálica’ in Santiponce on the outskirts of Seville on Sunday (20), the fifth and last Spanish leg of the 2018/19 IAAF Cross Country Permit series.
The pair are currently two of the world’s leading distance athletes - who would bet against an Ugandan win?
They clashed last year in this race, the victory going to Cheptegei on that occasion while Kiplimo finished runner-up barely one second behind so Sunday’s event will act as a rematch over the 9975m distance.
The 22-year-old Cheptegei looked destined for gold at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships Kampala 2017 before fatigue set in during the closing stages, forcing him to settle for 30th place. However, he bounced back that season by earning10,000m silver at the IAAF World Championships London 2017 in a huge career best of 26:49.94.
His 2018 accolades include a brilliant 5000/10,000m double victory at the Commonwealth Games in April and more recently a world best over 15km with a stunning 41:05 performance at the Seven Hills Run in Nijmegen on 18 November.
As for Kiplimo, still just 18, he remains unbeaten this winter season having won all four of his appearances on Spanish soil: the Atapuerca, Soria and Alcobendas Cross Country permit races plus the New Year’s eve 10km race in Madrid when he clocked an impressive 26:41, albeit on an aided course. The two Ugandan aces should play a key role at World Cross Country Championships in Aarhus on 30 March and Sunday’s race will mark the season’s first round between the pair.
Mande Bushendich might well complete the podium in what would be an Ugandan clean sweep. The 21-year-old proved to be in top form in Madrid’s New Year’s Eve 10km with a 27:24 clocking to his name.
Kenya’s Vincent Rono, a creditable seventh at the Kampala World Championships and recent winner in Venta de Baños on 16 December, will also be in contention alongside Bahrain’s Albert Rop who is fresh from a victory in Amman on 5 January.
Watch out too for Morocco’s Soufiane El Bakkali, the reigning world 3000m steeplechase silver medallist; the 23-year-old boasts an impressive 7:58:15 career best which places him in the top-ten on the all-time lists. He will be joined by his compatriot Abdelaati Iguider, the 2012 world indoor champion and Olympic bronze medallist over 1500m.
The Spanish contingent includes Toni Abadía and David Palacio, fourth and fifth respectively in Elgoibar last Sunday, Adel Mechaal plus the newly-minted European U-20 cross country silver medallist Ouassim Oumaiz.
Chesang the woman to beat
The women’s cast is headed by the reigning Commonwealth 10,000m champion Stella Chesang. The 22-year-old Ugandan finished a fine second in Elgoibar last Sunday and should be regarded as one of the main favourites at this weekend’s 9135m event. Kenya’s current world 3000m steeplechase record holder Beatrice Chepkoech, who came third in Elgoibar some 17 seconds behind Chesang, will arguably be the Ugandan’s fiercest opponent alongside Ethiopia’s Gete Alemayehu, the 20-year-old who won the Houilles 10km on 30 December in a massive lifetime best of 31:12.
Turkey’s Yasmine Can had a below-par performance in Elgoibar where she had to settle for a distant fourth but the triple European cross country champion should be eager to bounce back and be in the hunt for the podium places.
Spain’s Trihas Gebre, Uganda’s Esther Chebet and Kenya’s Hellen Ekarare Lobun will be aiming for a top-five finish. The Ethiopian-born Spaniard is fresh from a national 10km record of 31:39 in Valencia last Sunday while Chebet clocked 31:53 at Madrid’s New Year’s eve race where Gebre clocked 31:40. As for Lobun, she was a creditable fifth over 5000m at last summer’s World U20 Championships and boasts a 15:16:53 PB. The 19-year-old Kenyan will be making her first outing of the year.
Weather forecasters predict a pleasant sunny early afternoon on Sunday with temperatures of 16-18 C, some gusts of wind but no chance of rain.
Emeterio Valiente for the IAAF