Maryam Jamal takes a comfortable 1500m victory at the Asian Games (Getty Images) © Copyright

Jamal returns to Cross Country in Diekirch - PREVIEW

Jamal returns to Cross Country in DiekirchPREVIEW

25 February 2011 - Maryam Jamal is the most prominent name among those entered Sunday’s (27) ING Eurocross, the penultimate 2011 IAAF Cross Country Permit Meeting. The event in Diekirch, Luxembourg, will be staged exactly three weeks before the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Punta Umbria, Spain, on 20 March.

Bahrain’s reigning 1500m World champion will lead the women’s field over the 5.35Km course while the man to beat in the mne’s 10.2Km contest will be Onesphore Nkunzimana of Burundi who’ll be chasing a record fourth victory at the Eurocross. Athletes from 23 nations will compete on the 1.35 k loop course which has one significant hill.

For Jamal it will be the first race of the year and the first major Cross Country competition for almost two years. The 26-year-old last raced at the Asian Games in late November where she took the 1500 m gold and placed sixth in the 800m. It was back in 2009 when she achieved a strong ninth place at the World Cross Country Championships in Amman. With this performance Jamal clearly showed her ability on the rough terrain. The two-time 1500m World Champion (2007/2009) must be regarded as the favourite in Diekirch.

The strongest opposition for Jamal could come from a former fellow countrywoman: Almenesh Belete (Ethiopia) has already run a couple of Cross Country races this year and she knows the loop course in Diekirch well, having finished second here the past two years. If Jamal is in form it could well be another second place for Belete.

Mary Naali of Tanzania and Kenyan Antonia Rutto are two other Africans who could play a part while Lourine Jepchirchir Mutai is an internationally unknown Kenyan, who is said to be a good Cross Country runner – which may well mean that she is ready for a surprise! Ireland’s Linda Byrne, who took third in Diekirch in 2010, and Poland’s reigning 10,000m champion Agnieszka Ciolek look like the strongest of the European runners in the field.

In the men’s race Nkunzimana enters as the defending champion. The 26-year-old from Burundi is eager to become the first runner to win in Diekirch for a fourth time. With three wins from 2005, 2007 and 2010 he already is the record winner of the event. Two of his first places in Diekirch came under a different name though. Nkunzimana had been competing for Qatar for some time and was then called Zaman Kamis Sultan.

Nkunzimana will be up against last year’s runner-up once again. Marocco’s Najim El Qady is the national 10,000m champion. But the one to beat for both of them will most probably be Leonard Langat, who will run in the Eurocross for the first time. The Kenyan has just recently shown very good form, when he was third at the high-class Ras al Khaimah Half Marathon. 21 year-old Langat improved his personal best by four seconds to 59:52. He has been to Luxembourg before, when he took the 2010 Route du Vin Half Marathon in 59:56.

Two Germans may also have a chance for achieving a good place in Sunday’s race: Steeplechaser Steffen Uliczka, who placed 12th in the European Cross Country Championships in December 2010, and 5000m runner Arne Gabius, who is coached by former Olympic champion Dieter Baumann.

Jörg Wenig for the IAAF