Ruth Jebet celebrates her victory (© Getty Images)
The Cross Internacional de Itálica in Santiponce on the outskirts of the Spanish city of Seville, the third Spanish leg of this season’s IAAF Cross Country Permit series, will boast a star-studded field on Sunday (15) headed by Bahrain’s Olympic steeplechase champion Ruth Jebet.
The 20-year-old, who is also the world record-holder for the event with her mark of 8:52.78 in Paris last August, will be making her first appearance of 2017.
Jebet finished ninth in the junior race at the 2015 World Cross Country Championships, but after her outstanding 2016 campaign, there was some talk about Jebet’s plans to compete at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships Kampala 2017 in March, so this weekend’s contest will provide an insight into the rising star’s current form.
While Jebet’s performance will remain a question mark until Sunday afternoon, her toughest opponent Senbere Teferi of Ethiopia showed awesome fitness in Atapuerca in November when she beat world cross-country champion Agnes Tirop, the only woman who finished ahead of Teferi at the 2015 World Cross.
After that silver medal, Teferi also finished second in the 5000m at the IAAF World Championships Beijing 2015. More recently she placed fifth at the Rio Olympics in the same event and three weeks later she lowered her career best to 14:29.82 in Brussels.
Spain’s Trihas Gebre is also one to watch as she finished second in Amorebieta last Sunday and placed seventh at the recent European Cross Country Championships. Matylda Kowal, who represented Poland in the steeplechase at last year’s Olympic Games and European Championships, will also be on the start line.
Medhin aims to stop in-form Ayalew
The men’s line-up is headed by Bahrain’s Awake Ayalew, who will be contesting this event for the first time.
The 23-year-old opened this season in style with a convincing win in Atapuerca, the first IAAF Cross Country Permit meeting of the winter, in November. One week later in Allonnes he had to settle for second place behind world U20 5000m champion Selemon Birega of Ethiopia, but Ayalew bounced back in Venta de Baños in December with an overwhelming victory over Jairus Birech, who will also be in contention on Sunday.
Ayalew’s compatriot El Hassan El Habbassi should also be in the fight for the top three spots after his fourth-place finish in Alcobendas.
But Eritrea’s Teklemariam Medhin could prove to be Ayalew’s toughest opponent. The 2010 world cross-country silver medallist has reportedly been training well in Madrid and has set his sights on the World Cross Country Championships in March. Sunday’s race will be his first competition of the winter and the 27-year-old will try to repeat his victory from two years ago.
Birech, who holds a steeplechase PB of 7:58.41, kicked off the winter campaign with a fifth-place finish in Atapuerca and improved to third place in Alcobendas. He finished third in two different Italian races – the Boclassic 10km, where he clocked 28:57, and the Campaccio Cross Country race – and then two days later he finished second in Amorebieta, beaten only by Eritrea’s Nguse Amlosom.
The two-time Diamond Race winner will be joined by his fellow Kenyan Leonard Patrick Komon, the 10km and 15km world record-holder, himself a twice victor here back in 2009 and 2010. In addition to his impressive accolades on the road, Komon is also an accomplished cross-country runner, having won a number of world-class races in addition to his silver medal at the 2008 World Cross Country Championships in Edinburgh. More recently, however, he finished seventh at the Campaccio race, 46 seconds behind the winner.
The Spanish contingent will be headed by Ilias Fifa, the European 5000m champion who pushed Amlosom to the line at the San Silvestre Vallecana a fortnight ago, Toni Abadía, runner-up on that occasion, the always consistent Ayad Lamdassem, Javier Guerra and the evergreen Jesús España.
Other notable entrants include Burundi’s Olivier Irabaruta, holder of a 10,000m career best of 27:55.92 and winner of the New Year’s 10km road race in Rome, plus Ethiopian steeplechaser Tafese Soboka.
Weather forecasters predict a pleasant sunny day on Sunday with the thermometer about 11-13C and no chance of rain.
Emeterio Valiente for the IAAF