In Alcobendas, Gebre Gebremariam making it four victories in four outings in autumn 2009 (Miguel Alfambra) © Copyright

Gebremariam and Masai head stellar line-up in Seville - preview

The ‘28th Cross Internacional de Itálica’ which will be held in Santiponce (Seville) on Sunday (17) will arguably offer one of the most remarkable line-ups so far this season.

The race is the fifth of the 12 IAAF Cross Country Permit Meetings of the 2009/2010 series held in the lead up to the 38th IAAF World Cross Country Championships be held in Bydgoszcz, Poland, on 28 March.

Unlike in previous years, the circuit promises to be quite muddy as it has been raining non-stop for several days earlier this week and so the genuine cross country specialists should have a better chance than usual here.

Men’s race: Gebremariam to hold off top Kenyans

Armed with a strong budget, elite athlete coordinator José Manuel Díaz had scheduled a much-awaited rematch of the Amman Cross Country Worlds with Ethiopia’s reigning World champion Gebre-egziabher Gebremariam and Uganda’s silver medallist Moses Kipsiro on show but the Ugandan’s agent let the organisation know earlier this week that Kipsiro is slightly injured and cannot compete at the level an IAAF permit requires.

Even so, the men’s field is of a high calibre as no less than four athletes from the Amman 09 top-ten plus the reigning World Junior champion will be in contention on Sunday.

Gebremariam was surprisingly beaten by the narrowest of the margins by his fellow Ethiopian Hunegaw Mesfin in Amorebieta last weekend and so the 25-year-old World champion should be eager to bounce back from that loss and give Ethiopia back the supremacy in Seville after two wins in a row by Kipsiro. Gebremariam will have his countryman and reigning World Cross Country junior champion Ayele Abshero for company.

While Gebremariam will be making his sixth cross country outing this season, Abshero’s performance will be his opener although he has raced twice over 15km on roads in The Netherlands capped by a 42:50 clocking for third in Heerenberg last 6 December. Another star in the making taking part is Uganda’s World Junior Cross Country bronze medallist Moses Kibet.

But the main threat for Gebremariam should come from the powerful and large Kenyan armada as it consists of 2008 World XC silver medallist Leonard Komon – 4th last year in Amman – Vincent Chepkok (9th at the Berlin Worlds over 5000m), Mathew Kisorio (6th in Amman), Michael Kipyego (a 8:08.48 3000m Steeplechase specialist) , Mark Kiptoo (7th in Amman), Josphat Bett, the reigning World junior 10,000m champion and Lucas Rotich.

On their current form, while Komon’s last appearance took place in Alcobendas on 6 December when he finished third, the triumvirate of Chepkok, Rotich and Kisorio took second, third and fourth respectively in Fuensalida, Spain, last Sunday. As for Kiptoo, he recorded a fifth place in Amorebieta.

The European response to such an impressive bunch of top Africans should be led by Spain’s reigning European XC champion Alemayehu Bezabeh – 3rd in Amorebieta – who will have his in-form countrymen Sergio Sánchez, Juan Carlos Higuero and Chema Martínez for company.

Who can stop Masai? – Women’s race

All eyes in the women’s 8000m event will be focused on Kenya’s reigning World 10,000 champion Linet Masai. The 20-year-old is also the reigning World Cross Country silver medallist from Amman and has a perfect card of two wins in her only outings in Llodio (22 Nov) and Soria (29 Nov) so far this season.

On paper, Masai’s stiffest opposition should come from her fellow Kenyan Pauline Korikwiang, a former (2006) World Junior XC champion, who is fresh from a massive 51-second win in Fuensalida last Sunday ahead of Portugal’s Ines Monteiro, also in the mix this weekend.

In addition to this impressive duo, the full Amorebieta permit podium will also line-up on Sunday in the guise of Kenya’s Ann Mwangi, Adriënne Herzog of The Netherlands and Grace Momanyi also from Kenya.

The depth of the field is such that fine cross country specialists such as Hungary’s Aniko Kalovics – winner at the Campaccio permit last 6 January – and Kenya’s Ines Chenonge – a creditable tenth in Amman – should do their very best to take a top-five spot on Sunday.

Late additions to the quality entry list include Britain’s rising star Sthepanie Twell, Spain’s Nuria Fernández (4th at the Berlin Worlds in the 1500m) and newly-minted European XC silver medallist Rosa Morató plus Portugal’s Jessica Augusto, fourth on that occasion.

While the current World Junior 1500m champion Twell performed superbly against the ‘big woman’ in Edinburgh last Sunday taking a promising fifth place, Augusto had to be satisfied with ninth. Morató finished a fine fourth in Amorebieta and Fernández clinched the second place at the ‘San Silvestre Vallecana’ with a 32:59 10km on road performance.

Portugal’s Ana Dias, the Kenyan pair of Viola Kibiwot and World 3000m steeplechase bronze medallist Milca Chemos (6th in Edinburgh last Sunday) plus the veteran Russian duo of Mariya Konovalova and Yelena Zadorozhnaya should all look for a top-ten position.

As usual in the city, Seville will enjoy a nice day on Sunday with the thermometer rising up to 19ºC.

Emeterio Valiente for the IAAF