The current economic downturn has not been a barrier for race elite coordinator Zigor Díez to bring together a star-studded cross country field for the “66th Cross Internacional Juan Muguerza” meeting which will be held on Sunday (11 Jan) in Elgoibar, Spain.
MEN - Komon to retain title
Kenya’s reigning World Cross Country silver medallist Leonard Patrick Komon, the defending Elgoibar champion, should be the athlete to beat on Sunday although he has been having up and down cross country performances so far this season.
Komon, who will turn 21 years of age on the eve (10 Jan) of the event, suffered a shock defeat by new Spaniard Alemayehu Bezabeh in Atapuerca on 9 November but bounced back from his loss to take the IAAF permit in Soria in style (23 Nov). The following week he had to settle for eighth place over a muddy circuit in Llodio, and he is now fresh from a third place in San Giorgio Su Legnano last Tuesday 6 January.
It was here in Elgoibar last year that Komon managed his first major success as a senior athlete after having claimed the World XC Junior silver medal in 2006, and so knowledge of the circuit should play on his favour.
However, his assignment on Sunday promises to be far from easy as he will face tough opposition in the guise of the Qatari pair of Felix Kibore and Ahmad Abdallah since they both claimed top-8 places at the World XC in Edinburgh last year, finishing sixth and eighth respectively.
Abdallah finished runner-up here back in 2003, only bettered by Kenenisa Bekele, so the 2008 World Half Marathon bronze medallist will try to step up one place on the podium on Sunday.
The start list is further strengthened thanks to the presence of Kenya’s 2007 World XC silver medallist Moses Mosop and Uganda’s World 5000m bronze medallist Moses Kipsiro, although the former doesn’t seem to be in the kind of form needed to challenge his African rivals. After a lacklustre 2008 campaign Mosop took only 11th at last Tuesday’s Campaccio EA permit held in San Giorgio Su Legnano over one minute adrift the winner, Eliud Kipchoge.
As for Kipsiro he recorded a 13th place at the World XC in Edinburgh before narrowly missing a medal (4th) over 5000m at the Olympics.
To add even more interest to Sunday’s 10.796km event the new crop of promising Ethiopians will also be on show including the gold and silver medallists from the WXC Junior race in Edinburgh, Ibrahim Jeilan and Ayele Abshero. The former took seventh in San Giorgio Su Legnano, while the 18-year-old Abshero made a major breakthrough on the senior scene on 16 November by taking an overwhelming win at the ‘Seven Hills’, a 15km road race held in Nijmegen, The Netherlands, where he beat an injured Kenenisa Bekele among others with an excellent 42:17 clocking.
Another in-form Ethiopian is Imane Merga, who was 7th at the WXC in Edinburgh, and comes to Elgoibar fresh from a surprise win last Saturday at the IAAF permit race in Antrim ahead of a quality line-up barely three days after another fine win in Lisbon over 10km on road.
Spanish hopes seem to rest solely on the evergreen Chema Martínez. The 37-year-old came fourth at the ‘San Silvestre Vallecana’, a New Year’s Eve 10km road race held in Madrid with a 28:41 time, and his target should be to get the better from some Africans to make the top five on Sunday.
WOMEN - Wide open contest
The women’s 6.624km race features two top Kenyans, Grace Momanyi, who made the top-ten at the Edinburgh World XC and 2006 World Junior 5000m silver medallist Florence Kiplagat.
Last year’s winner and reigning World 5000m bronze medallist Priscah Jepleting, also of Kenya, is a last-minute (Friday midday) withdrawal citing a knee injury which has hampered her build-up.
Kiplagat is back after her motherhood and should be eager to regain the form which led her to a remarkable fifth place at the Mombasa World XC two years ago. Ethiopia’s Zemzem Ahmed should be a dangerous outsider as she is the national record holder in the 3000m Steeplechase thanks to her 9:17.85 performance in Beijing for seventh.
Keen to break the African dominance will be Hungary’s Aniko Kalovics who managed an emphatic win in San Giorgio Su Legnano last Tuesday in addition to her runner-up place at the New Year’s Eve race in Bolzano.
Portugal’s Sara Moreira and Spain’s Diana Martín complete the European challenge, both athletes having come second at their respective 10km road races held in Lisbon and Madrid with clockings of 33:13 and 33:09.
Weather forecasters predict a temperature of 8ºC and a slight 15% chance of rain for race day.
Emeterio Valiente for the IAAF