An eagerly awaited rematch between IAAF World 5000m bronze medallist Moses Kipsiro and IAAF World Road Running silver medallist Patrick Makau could provide the highlight of the 31st edition of the Belfast International Cross Country - IAAF permit meeting - at the historic Stormont Estate on Saturday (5).
Twelve months ago a blistering kick finish by Kipsiro ensured victory for the Ugandan in the 2007 race with Makau five seconds further back in third.
Since then Kipsiro has enjoyed great success on the track posting national records for the 3000m (7:32.03) and 5000m (12:50.72) and collecting a bronze medal behind Bernard Lagat in a tactical final of the 5000m at the World Championships in Osaka.
Kipsiro, who was runner-up in the Belfast race in 2006, has also maintained his form and an impressive victory on New Year’s Eve in the 8km road race in Trier, in a swift 22:31, suggests he will provide formidable opposition over the testing 9km course at Stormont.
Makau, however, will not be intimidated and he, too, has made enormous progress in the past 12 months. Last April the 22-year-old Kenyan climbed to third on the all-time Half-Marathon list with a scintillating 58:56 clocking in Berlin and in October he also showed his ability to perform on the global championship stage by claiming a silver medal behind Zersenay Tadese of Eritrea at the IAAF World Road Running Championships in Udine.
The 2006 Belfast winner Barnabas Kosgei of Kenya is also entered as is Jean Ndayisenga of Burundi, who finished sixth at Stormont in 2007, and earlier this Cross Country season triumphed in Birmingham and Newcastle.
The British challenge is headed by Peter Riley, who will be looking to make amends for dropping out of the European Cross Country Championships in Toro last month with an asthma attack. Riley’s fellow Brit, Mike Skinner, who finished 17th at the Europeans is also entered.
Teenagers take centre stage – women’s race
[NB: Race organisers have confirmed that due to the continued crisis in Kenya Linet Masai was unable to travel to Belfast.]
The women’s race sees an eye-catching showdown between the reigning World junior Cross Country champion Linet Masai of Kenya and the current European junior Cross Country gold medallist Stephanie Twell of Great Britain.
Masai, who celebrated her 18th birthday last month, took the World Cross Country gold medal in front of her home fans in Mombasa last March and followed up her success with an excellent track campaign last summer.
The Kenyan set a lifetime best of 8:38.97 in Rieti to stand 10th in the world lists for the 3000m and also recorded 14:55.50 in Stockholm for the 5000m.
Yet Twell, also aged just 18, will provide top quality opposition in Belfast. The 2006 European Junior Cross Country gold medallist defended her title in style in Toro, winning by nine seconds from Danuta Urbanik of Poland last month and also possesses dazzling speed - as shown when recording a 1500m lifetime best of 4:06.70 in Rieti last year.
But while the teenaged duo are expected to grab most of the pre-race attention 34-year-old former European Cross Country champion Hayley Yelling should not be underestimated. The British athlete, who finished runner-up in Belfast five years ago, is a hugely consistent performer on the international stage and finished ninth at the European Cross Country Championships in Toro last month – her sixth top ten finish in the event.
Also entered in the women’s 5.6km race are Scotland’s Kathy Butler, a sub-2:30 marathoner and Irish 5000m champion Maria McCambridge.
Steve Landells for the IAAF