The senior women’s race looks all set to be a battle between East African runners but the junior race at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships, Guiyang 2015 could prove to be a lot more open.
Several non-African nations are sending strong teams in an impressive field of 109 competitors from 28 countries with, perhaps, Japan and Britain set to challenge for team medals.
One particular runner to look out for though is Kenya’s Rosefline Chepngetich.
In her international cross-country debut in Bydgoszcz two years ago, Chepngetich produced a solid seventh-place finish and since then has moved from strength to strength.
Showing her dominance on the track by taking the 2013 world youth steeplechase title and then the Youth Olympic Games title over the barriers in 2014, as well as a world junior steeplechase silver in Eugene last summer, the 17-year-old comfortably took the Kenyan cross-country junior crown last month.
She also placed fourth at last year’s highly-competitive African Cross Country Championships and the two top finishers there, Kenya’s Agnes Tirop and Ethiopia’s Alemitu Heroye, have now left the junior ranks and both will be contesting the senior race in Guiyang.
Lining up for Kenya alongside Chepngetich will be 2012 world junior steeplechase champion Daisy Jepkemei.
The 18-year-old defeated a strong field, including world youth 3000m champion Lilian Kasait, in the junior women’s 6km at the regional North Rift Cross Country Championships before finishing third at the national championships.
Winfred Mbithe, returning to China after winning the Youth Olympic Games 1500m silver medal last year, is another member of a strong Kenyan team.
Having just turned 17 last week and eager to ultimately follow in the footsteps of her compatriot Genzebe Dibaba, Ethiopia’s Letesenbet Gidey could be a dark horse in the race for the title.
Gidey won the junior women’s 6km at her national trials in Addis Ababa.
Jebet Asia's best bet for a medal
Meanwhile, world junior steeplechase champion Ruth Jebet will be flying the flag for Bahrain.
In September, the then still 17-year-old set an Asian steeplechase record of 9:20.55, missing the world junior record by a mere 0.13.
An impressive display as a guest on a visit to the country of her birth saw Jebet win the junior race at the Central Rift Cross Country Championships earlier this year.
One junior woman looking to benefit from Guiyang’s mountainous course and aspiring to clinch her second global medal is world mountain running junior champion Stella Chesang of Uganda.
Chesang went unchallenged in her national trials, running a solo race to successfully defend her junior title.
Behind Kenya and Ethiopia, the Japanese flag is the one featured most heavily on the junior women’s team medal table.
The Japanese junior women have won team medals in 11 of the past 15 editions of the World Cross Country Championships. But in 2013 they missed out with Great Britain grabbing the bronze.
Both Japan’s and Britain’s team entries suggest they have laid high hopes in their junior women’s teams and will be keen to get on the podium and dent the African hegemony.
Leading the Japanese team will be Azusa Sumi, who finished 18th in the junior race at the 2013 World Cross Country Championships when aged only 16.
Miho Shimada and Nana Kuraoka, who finished second and third to Sumi at the Fukuoka International Cross Country meeting last month, will be lining up alongside her.
With Britain having claimed the junior women’s team bronze two years ago in the Polish city of Bydgoszcz, local Cross Challenge series winner Phoebe Law will be joined by European cross team champion Amy Griffiths as they look to achieve similar success in Guiyang.
Eritrea haven’t featured among the junior women’s medals since taking team silver in 2007, but they may also stand a chance of returning to the podium.
Indeed, they have opted to place their chances of women’s medal in the hands of the younger generation and are sending a team of six junior women, with only one senior woman present on the team.
Michelle Sammet for the IAAF