Racing PreviewJanuary 17, 2019
This weekend, Belfast hosts the penultimate British Athletics Cross Challenge race of the season, while a strong field of world record holders take to the cross country at Spain’s Cross International de Italica.
Northern Ireland International Cross Country (🇬🇧)
The fourth of five races in the British Athletics Cross Challenge Series for the 2018/19 season, this meet looks set to provide the most intriguing line-up yet. The men’s field is headlined by Rio Olympic 10000m Silver medallist and three-time World Bronze medallist, Paul Tanui (🇰🇪). His presence could really shake up the race, leaving the British contingent to make decision early on in if they wish to maximise their Cross Challenge points tally. He is joined by a fellow sub-13 5000m runner in Richard Yator (🇰🇪) in addition to 3000m Steeplechase specialists, Chala Beyo (🇪🇹 – 8:07 PB) and Ibrahim Ezzaydouny (🇲🇦 – 8:14 PB). Birhanu Balew (🇧🇭), who ran a 5000m best of 13:01 last year completes the lineup of non-Europeans.
The race for maximum points in the Cross Challenge will be lead by Charlie Hulson (🇬🇧), already with a 1st and 4th in the series this season, whilst Adam Hickey (🇬🇧) will be aiming for an improvement on his 3rd and 5th-placed finishes. With series leader Mahamed Mahamed competing in Spain (see race below), this presents a good opportunity for others to get on terms before the double-points final in March. Alex Teuten (🇬🇧) was third in Milton Keynes in October, but after failing to finish in Liverpool and then running his first sub-30 10K in Telford last month, he will be looking for a strong result on Northern Irish soil. Aside from these three, Kris Jones (🇬🇧) has had a strong winter and despite only finishing 10th in Liverpool, his 12th-place at the European Cross Country Championships will make him one of the favourites to be first Brit home on Saturday. However, a returning Sam Stabler (🇬🇧) will be difficult to beat if he can make it to the finish line following a long spell out through injury.
Kate Avery (🇬🇧) currently leads the Cross Challenge rankings after picking up maximum points in both Milton Keynes and Cardiff. However, Charlotte Arter (🇬🇧) has a good opportunity to get close to level terms ahead of the final in Loughborough. Points are determined by your best two results in the first four events, upon which Avery is unable to improve.
The women’s race also features high calibre of East Africans with Hawi Feysa (🇪🇹) who finished 2nd in the Junior women’s race at the 2017 World Cross Country Championships and Pauline Kamulu (🇰🇪), the bronze medallist at last year’s World Half Marathon Championships. Sandra Tuei (🇰🇪) ran the 5th fastest road 10K in 2018, running 30:57 for the victory in Valencia. Meskerem Mamo (🇪🇹) was the 10th fastest woman in the world over 3000m last year, but may struggle to stay with the other three in the latter stages this weekend.
Two-time European Cross Country Champion Fionnuala McCormack (🇮🇪) will be making her return to competitive racing. She has won this race twice before and will looking to add to that tally at the weekend.
Cross Internacional de Italica (🇪🇸)
Here we can look forward to an exciting head-to-head between rising stars Joshua Cheptegei (🇺🇬) and Jacob Kiplimo (🇺🇬), both of whom could be serious contenders at the World Cross Country Championships in March. Both men also broke World Records on the roads in 2018 – Cheptegei running 41:05 for 15km and Kiplimo 26:41 for 10km (albeit on a non-legal course). Cheptegei comes into this race as the reigning champion, but Kiplimo’s unbeaten streak this winter could give him the confidence to defeat his more experienced compatriot. Although these two may be the favourites for a 1-2, there’s plenty of other talent ready to push them all the way.
The prospect of a Ugandan whitewash will fall into the hands of Mande Bushendich (🇺🇬), who finished 43 seconds behind Kiplimo in his record breaking run in Madrid and may feel he has something to prove. However, the man with the greatest cross country pedigree is Vincent Rono (🇰🇪), who has a 7th-placed finish at the World Cross Country Championships to his name and recently ran 2:07:50 for his marathon debut. Albert Rop (🇧🇭), formerly of Kenya, won the Arab Cross Country Championships earlier this month and his 5000m PB of 12:51.96 is the quickest in the field. When it comes to negotiating uneven ground, Steeplechase specialist Soufiane El Bakkali (🇲🇦) is the man with most experience. The Moroccan became the 10th fastest 3000m steeplechaser ever upon winning the event at last year’s Monaco Diamond League. He’s joined by Abdelaati Iguider (🇲🇦), a former Olympic 1500m Bronze Medallist with a PB of 3:31.51. If it comes down to a bunch finish, his raw speed could be difficult to match.
The greatest hope for the host nation is likely to come from Adel Mechaal (🇪🇸). The two-time European Cross Country Championships medallist was third at last weeks Great Stirling XC and appears to be getting stronger as the season progresses.
The British representation consists of 17-year-old Lachlan Wellington (🇬🇧) and reigning British Cross Challenge champion, Mahamed Mahamed (🇬🇧), who finished 12th behind a strong field at last weeks Cross International Juan Muguerza.
Three of the top four women at last week’s Cross International Juan Muguerza in Spain return to battle it out again. The absence of Hellen Obiri this time round will open up the race after her dominant display on Saturday. Stella Chesang (🇺🇬) was the highest place of these three and the Commonwealth 10000m champion may be the favourite in Obiri’s absence. However, the other two are none other than 3000m steeplechase world record holder Beatrice Chepkoech (🇰🇪) and three-time European Cross Country Champion Yasemin Can (🇹🇷). Hoping the join in at the front will be
Gete Alemayehu (🇪🇹) won last month’s Corrida de Houilles with a hugely impressive 31:12, whilst Esther Chebet (🇺🇬) finished 6th at the San Silvestre Vallecana in 31:53 a day later. We’re yet to see whether either can translate this speed into a strong performance over the cross country. They’re joined by Trihas Gebre (🇪🇸), who proved she can do exactly that two weeks ago when she won the Cross International Zonortza.
Britain’s top hopes lie with Verity Ockenden (🇬🇧) and Jess Piasecki (🇬🇧). Piasecki was 10th at the European Cross Country Championships, 27 seconds ahead of Ockenden on that ocassion. But Ockenden’s recent 5th place at the Great Stirling Cross Country suggests we could see an interesting battle for first Brit in Spain this Saturday.