Gold medals in the U20 men’s race proved to be just the beginning for the likes of Eliud Kipchoge, Kenenisa Bekele, Asbel Kiprop and Geoffrey Kamworor, so distance-running fans will understandably be keen to see which of the world’s top teenage talents emerges as the victor at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships Kampala 2017.
Many of the U20 men lining up on Sunday 26 March will have limited international experience, which makes predicting the outcome all the more difficult. But one certainty is that cross-country superpowers Kenya and Ethiopia will be prominent in the lead pack.
World U18 3000m champion Richard Kimunyan Yator won the U20 men’s race by seven seconds at the Kenyan Cross Country Championships last month. Since the start of this year, he has been undefeated in U20 races and heads to the Ugandan capital full of confidence.
Fellow global champion Amos Kirui joins him on the Kenyan team. Kirui won the world U20 steeplechase title last year and, along with Yator, is one of the more experienced members of the Kenyan team.
World U20 5000m bronze medallist Wesley Ledama and African U20 cross-country silver medallist Ronald Kiprotich Kirui further bolster the Kenyan squad. Meshack Munguti Nzula and Edwin Kiplangat Bett are the least experienced members of the Kenyan team, but their respective second and fourth-place finishes at the Kenyan Cross Country Championships underlines their ability.
Tefera Mosisa leads the Ethiopian team, following his triumph at the National Cross Country Championships. He finished third behind Yator in the 3000m at the IAAF World Youth Championships Cali 2015 and will be seeking revenge in Kampala.
World U20 5000m champion Selemon Barega is also a genuine gold medal hope. He finished a close second to Mosisa at the Ethiopian Cross Country Championships and convincingly beat a strong senior field at the Cinque Mulini IAAF Cross Country Permit meeting earlier this year.
Namesake Selemon Berihun finished just two seconds behind Barega at the Ethiopian Cross Country Championships, while Amdework Walelegn – who finished fourth in the 10,000m at last year’s World U20 Championships – was three seconds adrift of Berihun.
Team medals at stake
Since 1988, Kenya has won all but two of the team titles on offer in the U20 men’s race, with Ethiopia breaking the Kenyan dominance in 1998 and 2013. Since 1985, only once has a team other than Kenya or Ethiopia finished in the top two in the U20 men’s team competition, and that occurred when the championships was last held on African soil with Eritrea taking team silver in 2007.
The third spot on the podium tends to be more open and is often contested between the likes of Eritrea, Morocco and Uganda.
Nothing would delight the host nation more than to see their athletes picking up individual or team honours. World U20 10,000m bronze medallist Jacob Kiplimo perhaps represents their best chance of an individual medal after winning the U20 men’s race by 28 seconds at the Ugandan Cross Country Championships.
Titus Kwemoi and Victor Kiplangat, the second and third-place finishers at their national championships, will help Uganda’s chances of a team medal.
The Eritrean team is led by world U20 steeplechase silver medallist Yemane Hailesilassie, while Morocco’s squad features national U20 cross-country champion Mohcin Outalha and world U20 steeplechase finalist Abdelkarim Ben Zahra.
Outside of the powerhouse nations, Brazil’s sole representative Daniel do Nascimento could contend for the honour of being the first non-African runner past the finish line.
Several other nations, meanwhile – such as Spain, USA and Japan – should challenge for a top-six spot in the team contest.
Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF