Preview: IAAF World Cross Country Championships

A look at what’s in store for when the world’s leading cross-country runners return to Poland on Sunday

MERGA,IMANA (Mark Shearman)

The Polish city of Bydgoszcz plays host to the 40th edition of the IAAF World Cross Country Championships on Sunday. The Kenyan hegemony of the 2010 edition, which was also held in Bydgoszcz, should be tamed as the Ethiopians arrive buoyed after a much better Olympic Games than their Rift Valley rivals and ready to challenge the Kenyans, who have dominated recent editions.

Senior men

Kenya swept the board when Bydgoszcz held the 2010 championships, but don’t necessarily expect the same dominance this year. Their men’s senior team isn’t anywhere near as strong as it could be as Philemon Rono and Timothy Kiptoo, first and second at the Kenyan trials last month, haven’t even broken 13:20 for 5000m.

The Ethiopian team includes many of their top names from the track, including Imane Merga, who won the last championships in Punta Umbria in 2011. The reigning champion might start as a slight worry for the Ethiopians as he dropped out of the trial race, but he put this down to a hard block of training in the build-up.

Uganda took a rare medal in the team race behind Kenya and Ethiopia in 2011 and their leading athlete, Moses Kipsiro, will be in contention for his third individual medal after taking silver in 2009 and bronze in 2010.

Senior women

The absence of Tirunesh Dibaba through injury opens up the women’s race but, while this is a blow for the Ethiopians, they will still be hoping a green and yellow-vested athlete can win this title for the first time since 2008 when Dibaba won her third world cross-country title in Edinburgh.

The leading aspirant is arguably sub-9:10 steeplechaser Hiwot Ayalew, who has won all of her cross-country races this winter, including a nine-second victory in the trials last month.

Reigning champion, Kenya’s Vivian Cheruiyot, and four-time senior medallist Linet Masai have both chosen to give this event a miss, so first and second at the trials, Margaret Muriuki and Irene Cheptai, are now expected to mount the Kenyan challenge.

Described by UK Athletics endurance coach Terrence Mahon as a ‘dark horse’, the British team has an outside chance of capturing a bronze medal in the team race as the squad contains National and Inter-Counties winner Louise Damen and former European junior cross-country champion Steph Twell, while one of the leading non-African challengers is Ireland’s Fionnuala Britton.

Junior men

Ethiopia’s squad includes an athlete who could have challenged for the gold medal in the senior race, 18-year-old Hagos Gebrhiwet, the holder of the world junior 5000m record at 12:47.53, which is some six seconds faster than Mo Farah’s UK record.

Their team also includes reigning world junior 5000m and 10,000m champions Muktar Edris and Yigrem Demelash, with the latter having finished second to Lilesa in the senior trials race.

The Kenyans in this category aren’t particularly renowned internationally but their squad is headed by Ronald Chebolei, who has to be respected after winning the Kenyan trials.

Junior women

Emelia Gorecka finished 23rd in Bydgoszcz in 2010 and the 19-year-old’s ambition is to cap her illustrious junior career with a top-10 finish in this race. Gorecka was also the top European finisher with 15th in 2011 and since then has won medals on the track at the European Junior Championships and World Junior Championships last year.

The East Africans will surely decide the medals between themselves, however, and while the Ethiopians have a stronger squad overall, the Kenyan team is spearheaded by reigning champion and world junior 1500m champion Faith Kipyegon.

Bobby Clay, who was second in the trial race to Gorecka, is set to become, at 15 years 308 days, the fourth youngest Brit to compete at the event – behind Steph Twell, Charlotte Purdue and Emily Pidgeon.

GREAT BRITAIN & NI TEAM

Senior Men: Phil Nicholls, Mike Skinner, Jonathan Taylor, Frank Tickner, Steve Vernon.

Senior Women: Elle Baker, Louise Damen, Lauren Howarth, Gemma Steel, Stephanie Twell, Emily Wicks.

Junior Men: Gordon Benson, Michael Callegari, Jonathan Davies, Lewis Lloyd, William Paulson, Michael Ward.

Junior Women: Alex Clay, Bobby Clay, Emelia Gorecka, Amy-Eloise Neale, Georgina Taylor-Brown, Rebecca Weston.

» A more in-depth preview to the World Cross Country Championships can be found in this week’s AW, out March 21. The action will be televised on BBC2 & HD from 12.00-2.05pm as well as on British Eurosport from 12.15-2pm. Follow @AthleticsWeekly on twitter and grab a copy of the March 28 issue of AW for in-depth coverage from Bydgoszcz.

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