Joseph Ebuya taking a comfortable victory in Llodio (José Montes) © Copyright

Spotlight on Ebuya and Melkamu - Soria Cross Country preview

Soria, SpainAn interesting mixture of top Africans and leading Spaniards has been assembled for the ‘14th Cross Internacional de Soria’ - the second leg of the IAAF Cross Country Permit Series 2007/08- which takes place on Sunday (25).

The race’s home, the ‘Monte Valonsadero’  circuit, is a beautiful forest on the outskirts of Soria well-known for having been 1992 Olympic 1500m champion Fermín Cacho’s usual training place for many years. There will be plenty of artificial barriers placed throughout the 10,000m (men) and 8000m (women) courses, as it will be at the European Cross Country championships to be held in Toro (Spain) on 9 December.

Undoubtedly, the man to beat on Sunday should be Joseph Ebuya. The rising star led a Kenyan clean sweep at the EAA Permit race in Llodio last weekend when he managed a final advantage of 20 seconds on Micah Kogo, who had to settle for fifth on this occasion and should be eager to prove why he ranks sixth on the all-time 10,000m world list with an impressive 26:35.63 clocking to his credit.  

Powerful Spanish armada despite De la Ossa’s withdrawal

But the event also acts nationally as the key selection race for the Spanish team for the European Cross Country Championships. The major news came earlier this week when it became known that three-time European Cross Country silver medallist Juan Carlos De la Ossa won’t be able to celebrate his 31th birthday on Sunday in contention for the win. The reigning European 10,000m bronze medallist has been struggling with an injury to his left foot for much of the 2007 season and has yet to recover. Even in his absence, the Spanish squad announced for Soria is mighty as it comprises European 5000m champion Jesús España and European 10,000m silver medallist José Manuel Martínez.

España will be making his third outing on this autumn term following a fifth place at the Atapuerca Cross Country (4 November) and a one-second win from Ethiopia’s Madrid-based Alemayehu Bezabeh at a 6km road race also on Spanish soil (11 November).

“After my Osaka 7th place at 5000m in Osaka I set myself the goal of Toro instead of the World Indoor Championships in Valencia next March,” explains España.

“I feel fine at the moment and look forward to competing in Soria where I’m aiming for one of the six berths at stake for the Europeans. De la Ossa’s leave is not good news for our team as he has placed among the top-ten in all his appearances (5) at the Europeans but even so I’m confident our squad for Toro will be the strongest ever, as performing on home soil has provided a huge incentive for all of us in our build-up for the championships.”

As for ‘Chema’ Martínez, the 36-year-old is fresh from a 20km on road victory in 61:47 a fortnight ago to add to his 3rd place in Atapuerca the previous week. Other Spaniards on the Toro ticket quest include former European medallists Alberto García, José Ríos and Antonio Jiménez plus Ricardo Serrano, Javier Guerra and Carlos Castillejo. Also in the line-up will be the Eritrean pair of Yared Asmeron and Tesfayohannes Mesfen (9th at the Fukuoka Worlds, long race). The former finished 4th at this summer’s Worlds in Osaka in the Marathon event but he only managed to finish a distant 14th in Llodio some 1:48 adrift of Ebuya.

Among the illustrious winners in previous years in Soria are: Ethiopia’s 2000 Olympic 5000m champion Million Wolde (1997), Kenya’s 2001 World 10,000m champion Charles Kamathi (2002), his compatriot Sally Barsosio (1994) who took the 10,000m gold medal at the 1997 Worlds in Athens, and Eritrea’s reigning World Cross Country champion Zersenay Tadese who took top honours in 2004.

Unchallenged Melkamu?

In the women’s section Ethiopia’s Meselech Melkamu appears as the only and overwhelming favourite. The in-form reigning World cross country bronze medallist proved to be in stellar form when she destroyed a classy opposition in Llodio a week ago. In addition, she won’t face the challenge of other remarkable Africans and so her likely mates on the podium positions well might be Spain’s 3000m steeplechaser Rosa Morató (8th in Osaka) and Portugal’s Monica Rosa. European U-23 5000m bronze medallist Marta Romo and Italy’s Elena Romagnolo should also be in the hunt for a top-five place.

Weather forecasters predict a cloudy day on Sunday with 20% of rain likelihood and a temperature range between -2ºC and 12ºC by the time of the event.

Emeterio Valiente for the IAAF