A look ahead to Saturday’s IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Guiyang, China

China hosts its first ever IAAF World Cross Country Championships this weekend as athletes compete in the city of Guiyang.

For an event that can boast winners in the past such as Zola Budd, Derartu Tulu, Tirunesh Dibaba, Paula Radcliffe, Gete Wami and Sonia O’Sullivan among the women and Kenenisa Bekele, Paul Tergat and John Ngugi among the men, while Haile Gebrselassie, John Walker and Mo Farah competed but never won, now there are no really big names and even quite well-known track stars stay away.

However, it’s still a great event, and in terms of depth it will be the best quality race of the year.

The senior men will complete six laps of the 2km loop course which is set in and around a horse racing circuit for the 12km race, while the senior women and junior men will run 8km and the junior women will race over 6km.

Senior men

Just 119 athletes from 38 nations are entered in this race and quite a few won’t end up competing.

Over the last 40 years, the Kenyan champion has invariably started favourite for the men’s race. Bedan Karioki hasn’t competed in the championships before but is a two-time Kenyan winner and finished in the top six in the Olympic and world championships 10,000m and has a PB of 26:52.36. The other Kenyan squad members entered are the 2012 junior runner-up Leonard Barsoton, world half-marathon champion Geoffrey Kipsang Kamworor, Joseph Kiprono Kiptum, Phillip Kiprono Langat and Moses Letoyie Mukono and all are potential medallists.

The reigning junior champion Hagos Gebrhiwet is the best known athlete in the Ethiopia team, while Tesfaye Abera is their only team member who ran in the senior race last time. In Poland two years ago, Uganda had two of the top five and both Moses Kipsiro and Timothy Toroitich should be in the top ten again.

USA’s Chris Derrick returns and has greatly improved since finishing 10th in 2013 while he also won the American title by 30 seconds.

Jonny Hay is the only GB senior male athlete with world championships experience, having three times competed as an under-20 with a best of 39th. He was an excellent fourth in the European Under-23 Championships, a position he matched at Birmingham. Trials winner and Scottish champion Andrew Butchart, runner-up and Welsh champion Dewi Griffiths and English National champion Charlie Hulson make up Britain’s senior men’s squad.

Senior women

Kenya’s Emily Chebet has won the world cross-country title twice before and was added as a wild card after struggling to 14th in their trials. Her team will start as favourites, though, with world junior cross-country silver medallist Agnes Tirop and 2008 world junior cross-country silver medallist Irene Cheptai also among those in action.

Ethiopia looks like the only team capable of challenging them. Genet Yalew, the 2011 world junior silver medallist, was an easy winner of their trials and world 10,000m bronze medallist Belaynesh Oljira should also be to the fore.

America are led by their champion Laura Thweatt.

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This will be the first time that Britain has failed to field a full women’s team, with Gemma Steel heading the squad. Steel, who finished 31st in 2013, won the European title in December and could be capable of a top ten placing if she is on her best form. For the only time, the entire British senior women’s team are individual European champions because the second member is European under-23 champion Rhona Auckland. Auckland has not competed in the four months since she won in Bulgaria though through injury.

Junior men

Ugandan Joshua Cheptegei, who won the world junior 10,000m title last year and has been competitive in cross-country events this winter, is probably the favourite. Ethiopia’s Yasin Haji will be another on the hunt for a medal.

On the GB team is Joe Steward who has shown promising form in 2015 by winning the Inter-Counties and finishing third in the National to older athletes. He is joined by Scottish and Celtic Games champion Jonathan Glen and Jac Hopkins, who dropped out in Birmingham through injury but the 17-year-old Welsh Champion was a superb 19th in the Europeans and looks a fine prospect. Elliot Bowker, Alex George and Chris Olley are the other team members.

Junior women

Kenyan Rosefline Chepngetich was seventh in the junior race when winning team gold two years ago and can also lay claim to the steeplechase title at the World Youth Championships and Youth Olympic Games. She also took the silver medal at the World Junior Championships and will be one to watch.

Letesenbet Gidey won the Ethiopian trials by a second from Dagmawit Kbru with Etagegn Weldu a further second back and all are genuine medal chances.

Welsh and Northern champion Bronwen Owen was runner-up at the trial in Cofton Park and Hannah Nuttall was third, with both making their first major international appearances for GB. They will be joined by Grace Baker and Amy Griffiths. The team should have been led by Phoebe Law and Harriet Knowles-Jones but they were both forced to drop out – Knowles-Jones having been refused a visa to travel to China and Law pulling out with illness. Abbie Donnelly has replaced Knowles-Jones.

» The first race starts at 4am GMT and the action will be live on the BBC red button. Follow @AthleticsWeekly on Twitter for updates and then see next week’s magazine for coverage. A more in-depth three-page World Cross preview can be found in the March 26 edition of AW