The Ethiopian pair of Getane Molla and Senbere Teferi will defend their titles at the ‘Cross de Atapuerca’ in Burgos on Sunday (11), the first of nine 2018-19 IAAF Cross Country Permit meetings which will conclude on 3 February in Albufeira.
Men's race: who can stop the Ethiopians?
The men’s 9000m contest offers a mouth-watering line-up which includes a very powerful Ethiopian armada led by the reigning champion Getaneh Molla, the current world cross country bronze medallist Abadi Hadis, Muktar Edris, who has the world 5000m title to his credit and the five-time victor in Atapuerca Imane Merga.
Hadis, who turned 21 earlier this week showed impressive form in Valencia a fortnight ago when he smashed his half marathon career best to a stunning 58:44, a top-ten all time performance. The promising Ethiopian lowered his 5000m PB to 12:56.27 last summer and should be a key player on Sunday as the only favourite who'll be making his Atapuerca debut.
Heis compatriot Edris, who famously defeated Mo Farah in the 5000m at the 2017 World Championships in London, will be making his fifth consecutive appearance here, his best outcome coming on his debut in 2014 when he was beaten by Merga by a fractions of a second in a blanket finish. Edris's current form includes a 28:31 10km effort in Trento last month.
As for Molla, he ran 1:00:47 in Valencia recently and should perform at his highest level to retain his title, a feat Merga managed no fewer than four times as he won five times in a row from 2011 to 2015. But the now 30-year-old has only competed once this year with a sub-par 1:07:31 half marathon outing in Trento last month.
Trying to stop the Ethiopian dominance in Atapuerca will be the two athletes who joined Molla on last year’s podium: Uganda’s Jacob Kiplimo and Eritrea’s Aron Kifle. Kiplimo, still a teenager, is the current world U20 cross country champion and added world U20 10,000m silver to his accolades last summer in Tampere. He recently beat Edris in Trento by a handsome margin of 17 seconds and should be eager to step up one place following his runner-up finish last year.
Kiplimo will run alongside Timothy Toroitich, winner of countless cross country permits on Spanish soil over recent seasons and holder of three Atapuerca podiums (2014/15/16).
Meanwhile, Kifle has enjoyed a successful 2018 season topped by his bronze medal at the IAAF world half marathon championships held in Valencia last March in only his second outing at the event. More recently, the Madrid-based rising star has dipped under the 60-minute barrier thanks to a 59:51 clocking in New Delhi in late October to confirm he should be a factor again on Sunday.
Other notable entrants are Eritreans Teklemariam Medhin and Yemane Hailesselasie. The former became world cross country silver medallist back in 2010 and won in Atapuerca later that year but he has sustained several injuries after performing as a pacemaker in the ‘Breaking 2’ project in May 2017 and will be on show Sunday for the first time since. As for Hailesselasie, he became world junior silver medallist in the 3000m steeplechase in 2016 and holds an 8:11.22 clocking for the event.
Kenyan hopes rest on the current world U20 5000m champion and silver medallist, Edward Zakayo and Stanley Waithaka, respectively, plus Vincent Rono, who was seventh at the World Championships in Kampala last year whose last outing was a marathon PB of 2:07:50 in Eindhoven last month.
The best Spaniards will also be on show in the guise of Adel Mechaal, Javier Guerra, Toni Abadía and Ayad Lamdassem.
Teferi targets hat trick - women's race
Teferi should be regarded as the athlete to beat in Sunday’s 8000m race. Already a two-time winner here, the 2015 World Cross Country silver medallist set a fine 5000m PB of 14:23.33 last summer in Rabat and will be making her cross country season debut on Sunday.
The 23-year-old Teferi will have her fellow Ethiopian Belaynesh Oljira for company. She has also won twice in Atapuerca (2014 and 2015) although in recent years Oljira has focused mainly on road events having set a creditable 2:21:53 career best in the marathon only a fortnight ago in Frankfurt.
However, the Ethiopian tandem will face tough opposition from the Kenyan contingent led by Margaret Chelimo, who finished second last year and was given the same time than Teferi. The 25-year-old grabbed 5000m silver at the Commonwealth Games last April and should again be in the hunt for victory on Sunday. Her compatriot Norah Tanui, an 8:59.62 3000m steeplechase specialist, should be a dangerous outsider. The same goes for Eva Cherono, fresh from a 10km PB of 31:17 in Utrecht last month.
Watch out too for Sweden’s Meraf Bahta, the reigning European cross country silver medallist. The 29-year-old took 10,000m bronze at the European Championships last summer and her last competition was a 31:38 10km win in Hole, Norway, three weeks ago.
Spain’s Trihas Gebre targets a top-five spot on Sunday and to be first European home as she'll battle against the Portuguese squad of Sara Moreira, Salome Rocha and Catarina Ribeiro.
More than 5700 athletes will take part in the event in what promises to be an athletics party on Sunday. Weather forecasters predict a rainy and windy day with temperatures between 10 and 12 C.
Emeterio Valiente for the IAAF