At last year’s Chiba Cross Country, the only IAAF Cross Country Permit meeting held in Asia, Japan-based Kenyans won three of the four main races. All three of them will return to the Japanese city on 9 February with another victory as their aim.
Among the nine races on the day, four of them – the senior men’s 12km, senior women’s 8km, junior men’s 8km and junior women’s 5km – will double up as selection races for the Asian Cross Country Championships and the World University Cross Country Championships.
Winner in 2012 and 2013, Charles Ndirangu once again lines up for the senior men’s 12km race. But he won’t have it easy as he will be up against fellow Kenyan Jeremiah Thuku, who won the junior race in Chiba last year.
While Ndirangu and Thuku are expected to battle it out for the top honours, another Kenyan could spring a surprise. Jonathan Ndiku is twice a world junior steeplechase champion and represented Kenya at the 2013 IAAF World Cross Country Championships.
Ethiopia’s Million Zewdie Yehualashet finished second to Ndirangu in Chiba last year and will be looking to go one better. High school runners John Gathaiya and Paul Kamais could also figure in the top five.
Ukrainian Olympian Mykola Labovskyy, Moroccan junior Mohammed Abid and Portugal’s Hermano Ferreira are among the other overseas entrants in the senior men’s race, while Akinobu Murasawa, three times a representative for Japan at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships, leads the domestic challenge.
In the men’s 4km short race, 1500m specialists Yasunari Kusu and Tsukasa Anzai are among the top entries as well as steeplechasers Aoi Matsumoto and Tsuyoshi Takeda.
Wanjiru vs Wanjugu
In Chiba 12 months ago, Rosemary Wanjiri won the senior women’s 8km race by 42 seconds. The Kenyan returns to defend her title, but she likely won’t have it so easy this time as she will be up against compatriot Felista Wanjugu.
The 23-year-old Wanjugu rarely competes in cross-country races, but her recent half marathon PB of 1:09:36 suggests she’ll be Wanjiru’s biggest threat.
East Asian Games steeplechase silver medallist Misaki Sango and Asian 10,000m bronze medallist Ayumi Nagiwara are expected to be the top Japanese finishers. Katsuki Suga, the 2011 world youth 3000m finalist, could also be one to watch.
Other international runners include European under-23 10,000m silver medallist Viktoriya Khapilina of Ukraine and Portuguese pair Sara Pinho and Solange Jesus.
Uehara to defend junior title
Two athletes who represented Japan at the 2013 World Youth Championships, Takeshi Okada and Hiroshi Yanokura, lead the entries in the junior men’s 8km race.
Miyuki Uehara, winner of the junior women’s 5km race last year, will be back in Chiba to defend her title and she will be joined by two athletes who represented Japan at the 2013 World Youth Championships, Misaki Hayashida and Yuri Nozoe. Natalia Hawthorn, who represented Canada at the 2013 World Cross Country Championships, is the sole overseas entrant.
Ken Nakamura for the IAAF