Great Britain will welcomes the best mountain runners in the world to the Welsh town of Betws-y-Coed for the 31st World Mountain Running Championships on Saturday (19).
Taking place over an up-and-down course with 250 metres of ascent and descent per lap, the championships will see over 300 athletes from 28 countries take to the hills.
In the absence of last year’s medallists, the 2015 senior women’s race looks likely to be a rematch of the battle for the gold medal in 2013, where Italy’s Alice Gaggi and Britain’s Emma Clayton duelled throughout the race, the Italian eventually prevailing.
On that day, Clayton was caught on the final climb to the finish, but with this year’s race reverting to a typical downhill finish, Clayton will look to draw on home advantage to secure her first world title over a two-lap, 8.9km course.
Few would bet against Ugandan women being on the podium in both the individual and team race but fielding just three runners in a three-to-score competition, they can’t afford any mistakes or below-par performances.
All the Ugandan trio are still teenagers, but they make up for their lack of experience with talent: 18-year-old Stella Chesang is the reigning world junior champion and was also fourth over 5000m at the IAAF World Junior Championships last year, whilst fellow youngsters Doreen Chemutai and Mercyline Chelangat were both top 30 finishers in the junior race at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships Championships in China earlier this year.
Clayton’s Great Britain & Northern Ireland team and Gaggi’s Italian squad are also very strong, and expect USA to also be in contention for the team medals as well.
In the men’s race, Uganda’s 2014 champion Isaac Kiprop returns to defend the crown he won on an uphill-only course in Italy last year.
With teammates Fred Musobo and Robert Chemonges ninth and 26th at this year’s IAAF World Cross Country Championships, Uganda will also be favourites for the team title. Tackling the three-lap 13km course, Kiprop will likely rely on his ascending skills, something he used to great effect last year.
The almost ever-present Dematteis twins will lead a typically strong Italian squad, as they look to upgrade the minor team medals they have won over the last three years to gold, something they last achieved on a similar up-and-down course in 2011.
Individually Bernard Dematteis is most likely to get amongst the medals after fourth and fifth place finishes at the last two editions, but don’t discount Martin, the bronze medallist in 2011.
American ambitions of a men's gold medal
The USA will also arrive in Wales with ambitions of winning team gold in the men’s competition, a feat they’ve never achieved in the event’s 30-year history.
Led by the 2013 seventh place finisher Joe Gray and 2014 WMRA World Long Distance Challenge silver medallist Andy Wacker they have clear strength in depth, but the key will be whether they can adapt to the technical nature of a European up-and-down course.
Like in the women’s event, Great Britain will look to use home advantage to secure a team medal, something they haven’t managed in the senior men’s race since the event came under the auspices of the IAAF in 2009.
For that dream to become reality, fourth and fifth place finishers at this year’s European Championships, Robbie Simpson and Andrew Douglas, will have to be at their very best.
In the junior races, Turkey will go some way to filling the void that Uganda has left by not fielding teams.
In the junior men’s event, run over the same course as the senior women, Ferhat Bozkurt will start as favourite after finishing third last year.
Turkey are also overwhelming favourites for the junior men’s team title, as lining up alongside Bozkurt are the 2015 European Mountain Running Championship silver and bronze medallists Abdullah Yorulmaz and Mustafa Goksel.
Like in the senior races, both Great Britain and Italy are very strong in this category.
Britain boasts European Championship fifth and sixth place finishers Max Nicholls and Jacob Adkin, whilst Italy have fourth and eighth place finishers Davide Magnini and Alberto Vender.
The junior women’s race – over one lap, 4.7km – is one of exceptional quality, with world and European medallists possibly missing out on medals. Czech Republic’s Michaela Stranska will look to keep her upward curve going after a bronze medal at last year’s World Championships and silver at this year’s European equivalent.
Despite the absence of the athlete who finished one place ahead of Stranska at both of those events, Sarah Kistner, expect to see German vests to the fore in the form of Nada Balcarczyk and Annika Seefeld.
Turkey also look good, with Burcu Subatan and Gulistan Bekmez likely to feature after good runs at the European Championships.
In the team race, Germany unfortunately only field two athletes, but Strankska will draw on the support of Tereza Korvasova and Katerina Divisova, so expect to Czech Republic to be a medal contender.
Great Britain, led by 2014 up-and-down European champion Georgia Malir and the USA, spearheaded by Allie Ostrander, as well as Turkey also look like they will be in contention for a place on the junior women’s team podium.
Peter Matthews for the IAAF