Organisers of the Cross Internacional Juan Muguerza have brought together a formidable line-up for the IAAF Cross Country Permit meeting in the Spanish town of Elgoibar on Sunday (14) to celebrate the 75th edition of the event.
At a press conference on Wednesday, elite race manager Zigor Díez announced the names of the athletes who will be competing on Sunday.
“One of our goals for this special anniversary was to gather several past victors,” he said. “I’m happy to announce that no fewer than three will be in contention in the guise of the Kenyan duo of Leonard Komon and Conseslus Kipruto plus Uganda’s Timothy Toroitich.”
Komon won in 2008, 2010 and 2011 and then shifted his focus to the roads, having set world records for 10km and 15km. But the 30-year-old, who earned the 2008 world cross-country silver medal, returned to cross-country running last year and finished a creditable 12th at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships Kampala 2017.
Kipruto, the world and Olympic steeplechase champion, has made it on to the podium in all three of his appearances in Elgoibar. He won in 2013 – while still a teenager, just six months after winning the world U20 steeplechase title – and finished third in 2014 and 2017. The 23-year-old Kenyan has not competed since winning the IAAF Diamond League steeplechase title in Brussels last September.
Toroitich, who won in 2014, will be making his fourth outing on Spanish soil of the current cross-country season after his runner-up spots in Atapuerca and Alcobendas and his recent win in Amorebieta last Sunday when he defeated the in-form Kenyan Amos Korir by eight seconds.
But despite this array of accomplished athletes, the arguable favourites are among the youngest in the race: Ethiopia’s Selemon Barega and Abadi Hadis plus Uganda’s Jacob Kiplimo.
Barega, the world U18 3000m champion and world U20 5000m champion, is unbeaten so far this cross-country season following wins in Allonnes and Venta de Baños where he narrowly out-sprinted Kiplimo. Barega finished fifth in the U20 race at the 2017 World Cross Country Championships but went on to achieve the same finishing position against senior opposition in the 5000m at the IAAF World Championships London 2017.
He will be joined by world cross-country bronze medallist Hadis who holds an impressive 26:57.88 career best for 10,000m and finished seventh at that distance at the World Championships. The 20-year-old Ethiopian made a strong half-marathon debut last November, clocking 1:00:25 in Delhi.
Kiplimo was a convincing winner of the world U20 cross-country title in front of his home crowd in Kampala last year and has shown fine early form this season with a second-place finish at the IAAF Cross Country Permit meeting in Atapuerca, a solid win the following weekend in Soria and another runner-up spot in Venta de Baños.
The Spanish charge is led by European 5000m champion Ilias Fifa, who recently finished third in Amorebieta, European 10,000m bronze medallist Toni Abadía, fresh from a fine third place at Madrid’s New Year’s Eve race, and 2:09:33 marathon runner Javier Guerra.
Thrilling battle expected between Tirop, Rengeruk and Jebet
The women’s 7.7km event is expected to be a three-way battle between world cross-country bronze medallist Lilian Rengeruk, 2015 world cross-country champion Agnes Tirop and Olympic steeplechase champion Ruth Jebet.
Rengeruk set PBs of 8:32.73 for 3000m and 14:36.80 for 5000m on the track last year, but missed out on making Kenya’s team for the World Championships. The 2013 world U18 3000m champion opened her cross-country season with victories in Eldoret and at the IAAF Cross Country Permit meeting in San Giorgio Su Legnano, finishing one second clear of Tirop.
Tirop is also coming off the back of a strong track season in 2017. The 22-year-old earned bronze in the 10,000m at the World Championships with a PB of 31:03.50. Earlier in the season she set a 5000m PB of 14:33.09 and won the Kenyan trial race for 10,000m.
Steeplechase specialist Jebet could only manage a fifth-place finish at the World Championships, but she ended her season by clocking a world-leading 8:55.29, the second-fastest time in history behind her own world record of 8:52.78.
The 21-year-old from Bahrain finished seventh at the World Cross Country Championships, but finished second in Elgoibar at the start of 2017 and won in Venta de Banos at the end of the year.
The Portuguese duo of Catarina Ribeiro and Jessica Augusto will fight against Spain’s Trihas Gebre in their quest to be the first European home. The 27-year-old Ribeiro is fresh from a 10km PB of 32:41 in Madrid on 31 December while 2010 European cross-country champion Augusto is still rounding into form this season, her last outing being a 33:52 easy win in Lisbon on 30 December.
Gebre was 13th at the European Cross Country Championships in Samorin last month, five spots ahead of Ribeiro. More recently, she won in Amorebieta last weekend.
In addition to the elite events, there will be a strong junior race with representatives from Portugal, Italy, France and Great Britain in the fight for the Mamo Wolde prize, an award created in 2003 in memory of Ethiopia’s legendary two-time Olympic marathon champion. He is fondly remembered in Elgoibar after winning in 1963, 1964, 1967 and 1968.
A special Gala to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the event will take place on Friday night. It will pay tribute to illustrious athletes such as Portugal’s Carlos Lopes or Kenya’s John Ngugi.
Weather forecasters predict a cloudy day with temperatures ranging between 7-9C and a high chance of rain.
Emeterio Valiente for the IAAF