German runners have a distinguished record in the women's race at the ING Eurocross in Diekirch and Sabrina Mockenhaupt will be in contention to become the fourth German winner at the IAAF Cross Country Permit meeting on Sunday (9).
With victories from Uta Pippig in 1990, followed by Irina Mikitenko in 1999 and 2000 and Susanne Hahn (nee Ritter) in 2006, Mockenhaupt will be keen to be the next German woman on that list.
Mockenhaupt has put a greater focus on the roads in recent years but the 33-year-old, who was a top-ten finisher in the New York and Boston Marathons last year, has proved she is a runner for all surfaces by twice finishing in the top five at successive editions of the European Cross Country Championships.
However, the winner of 37 German titles suffered a rare domestic defeat to Eleni Gebrehiwot at the national cross-country championships last year and the German-based Ethiopian also scored victory by a margin of 42 seconds in Diekirch last year.
The 31-year-old doesn't have the same reputation as Mockenhaupt, but Gebrehiwot is the in-form runner on this particular surface.
A late entry into the women's race is Almensh Belete and the Belgian is the most likely candidate to break up the German theme. The 24-year-old is a renowned cross-country exponent who excels on all courses. Top-three finishes at the IAAF Cross Country Permit meetings in Belfast and Hannut indicates the 2012 winner arrives in good form.
Birtukan Fente isn't one of the best known Ethiopians but the 24-year-old is another of the main contenders. She reached the world steeplechase final in 2011 and ran 9:35.14 for the distance last summer.
At the lower end of the distance scale, the organisers have also invited reigning world junior 800m bronze medallist Manal Bahraoui, who lowered her PB to 2:00.82 last summer. The Moroccan doesn't have any form beyond her specialist event though, so the 5.5km course will test her endurance.
Runner-up Kibet returns in men's race
Alex Kibet was a close second to Albert Rop last year and the Kenyan-turned-Qatari, who won the IAAF Cross Country Permit meeting in Brussels just before Christmas and finished second at the Cinque Mulini, is tipped to triumph in the absence of the reigning champion in the 10.275km race.
Among his closest rivals will be his former team-mate Onesphore Nkunzimana, who is a three-time past champion in Diekirch. His name might not be immediately recognised by cross-country fans as he spent most of his senior career competing under the Qatari flag as Sultan Khamis Zaman before switching allegiance back to Burundi in 2010 and reverting to his birth name.
At his best, Nkunzimana was twice a top-ten finisher in the short course race at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships, but the 28-year-old's form appears on the wane. He wasn't much of a factor in last year's race, finishing 21 seconds adrift of the podium in fourth.
A noteworthy last-minute entry is 16-year-old world youth 3000m champion Yomif Kejelcha from Ethiopia, who is thought to be racing internationally at cross-country for the first time. He doesn't have any recent cross-country form to speak of, but a world youth indoor 3000m best of 7:42.05 on his indoor debut last month shows he has prepared well.
Kejelcha's team-mates Tasama Dame, the winner in Tilburg in November, and last year's third-place finisher Melaku Belachew are also tipped to feature.
In terms of the leading European contenders, former European cross-country champion Atelaw Bekele from Belgium is the most renowned name although his form has wavered since that triumph in 2011.
The Moroccans are perennial contenders in Diekirch with four victories in the men's race. Former two-time podium finisher Najam El Gady, 3:33 1500m runner Sadik Mikhou and Chakir Boujattaoui, a former top-ten finisher at the World Cross Country Championships, should all be in the mix as well.
Steven Mills for the IAAF