A fine selection of the world’s most promising young distance runners, arguably topped by Bahrain’s Albert Rop and Kenya’s Faith Kipyegon, will gather at the Iris Lotto Cross Cup meeting in Brussels, the second of this winter’s IAAF Cross Country Permit meetings, on Sunday (21).
Rop was beaten into second place last year by Kenya’s Alex Kibet and the latter has started this winter season with a mission to qualify for the IAAF World Cross Country Championships next March.
However, Rop will certainly be seeking for revenge for the defeat he suffered 12 months ago and he has stronger credentials on the track than his rival.
Kenya's 21-year-old James Rungaru is one of the new kids on the block, although he ran 27:22.53 over 10,000m in 2011 when he was just 18.
Rungaru showed he is back in fine form when he finished second in the famous Cross l’Acier in the French town of Leffrinckoucke three ago.
Elvis Cheboi, another Kenyan youngster who is only 19, took the world junior 10,000m silver medal this summer and will also be on the start line.
“This a new trend in cross country as I see it,” said Brussels meeting organiser Jos Van Roy.
“Every year new athletes emerge and lots of very young athletes perform at a very high level. There are no more legends any more who are able to dominate the event year after year.”
Pieter-Jan Hannes, the 2013 European cross-country under-23 champion, will be a local crowd pleaser while visiting British and Dutch runners will also be present in the men’s 10.5km race in large numbers.
Kipyegon the clear favourite
Faith Kipyegon finished in second place in Brussels in 2011, when only 17. The Kenyan still is a young talent now, but her list of honours has been steadily growing including twice winning the world junior cross-country title in recent years.
After a strong first year in the senior ranks, including winning the Commonwealth Games 1500m title and twice going under four minutes for the distance, there should be no doubt that Kipyegon will be satisfied only with victory in the 6km women's race on Sunday.
However, some strong competition is expected to come from Bahrain’s Ruth Jebet, the world junior and Asian Games steeplechase champion.
Also in the field is Kenya’s experienced Perine Nengampi and Ethiopia’s Zewdenesh Ayele, the latter having finished second last year in Brussels.
The European challenge could come from home star Almensh Belete and Ireland’s two-time European cross-country champion Fionnuala Britton, who were fourth and sixth at the European Cross Country Championships in Bulgaria last Sunday.
“I was happy with my result, but it was a bit unfortunate that I missed a bronze medal by only a few centimetres. I will try my best on Sunday but the course will be extremely difficult, that is not what I would have preferred,” said Belete at the pre-event press conference on Thursday.
Three of the top-10 finishers of the under-23 race in Samokov are also entered: Bulgaria’s surprise silver medallist Militsa Mircheva, Maureen Koster from the Netherlands and Louise Carton from Belgium.
The venue in the Parc de Laeken, next to the Royal Palace and Belgium’s famous Atomium landmark, has inscribed its name in cross-country history.
In 2004, the IAAF World Cross Country Championships were held here and it also hosted the European Cross Country Championships in 2008.
The course is characterised by its different and steep hill sections and can be extremely tough when it is affected by rain in the days before which so far is the case ahead this year’s edition.
More than 1200 participants are already confirmed in a programme that includes all age groups. All in all, more than 200 foreign athletes will be present and competing around the Brussels Atomium.
Ivo Hendrix for the IAAF