USA's Chris Derrick on his way to victory in the international team race in Edinburgh (© Getty Images)
Edinburgh has been one of the finest stages in the world for cross country running in recent years and 2015 should be no different when the Great Edinburgh XCountry event, an IAAF Cross Country Permit meeting, takes place on Saturday (10).
All three defending champions will return for the main races through the historic Holyrood Park, the venue for the 2008 IAAF World Cross Country Championships, with going underfoot likely to be muddy and the weather could turn very wintry as well on Saturday, according to the weather forecasters.
A year ago, the event turned out to be a day which the Sars and Stripes fluttered proudly.
Garrett Heath produced a major upset when he took the highly competitive 4km event, leaving behind the likes of Kenenisa Bekele and Asbel Kiprop.
The short race this year could turn out into another battle between the Americans and a group of Kenyan world class runners and although the Kenyans will be eager to avoid another surprise defeat by Heath, there is another runner from the US who could upset them: Dathan Ritzenhein.
Ritzenhein will come to Edinburgh in good form and with plenty of confidence after a fine win a few days ago at the famous Campaccio cross country meeting in the Italian town of in San Giorgio Su Legnano, but the Edinburgh challenge should be much tougher for him.
Kiprop, the 2008 Olympic Games 1500m champion and reigning 1500m world champion, was among those beaten a year ago. The Kenyan placed third 12 months ago, but he knows how to do better in Edinburgh.
In 2011, he was second and a year later he won the shorter race through Holyrood Park.
Korir gets going ahead of Guiyang
With the IAAF World Cross Country Championships coming up in Guiyang, China, on 28 March, it will be interesting to see how the current global champion will do as an indicator of his form ahead of a possible defence of his title. Kenya’s Japhet Korir has to be among the favourites although the 4km distance might be a bit too short for him.
The relatively short race will more likely play into the hands of steeplechasers and 5000m runners which include the Kenyan duo of Jairus Birech, the consensus number one man over the barriers last year, and 2014 IAAF World Junior Championships silver medallist Barnabas Kipyego.
Five more Kenyans ensure that this will be a high class race and that no one will be able to relax at any point: James Magut, Silas Kiplagat, Thomas Longosiwa, Augustine Choge and Edwin Soi.
Bernard Lagat is also another American who can never be overlooked, even though he recently turned 40.
Another American runner, Chris Derrick, won the men’s 8km race, which included a team contest with Great Britain, Europe and the USA.
Great Britain’s Gemma Steel was the winner of the 6km women’s race, which together with two junior races also counted for the team event.
It will be the same format on Saturday with no African runners in the 6km and 8 km races.
Derrick will run against some of the best European cross country runners plus, of course, some strong athletes from his own country.
Among the European contingent is Spain's 2013 European cross country champion Alemayehu Bezabeh.
It was also a race targeted by Mo Farah. However, the British star had to withdraw a few days ago.
“Unfortunately I have to cancel my participation as I had the flu over Christmas and New Year and had to take some days off training,” Farah told the British media via a statement.
He stressed that it is his aim to defend the 5000m and 10,000m world titles in Beijing this summer.
Steel comes back to Edinburgh an even stronger runner than last year. The defending champion in the 6km race won the European Cross Country Championships gold medal in style and then was an emphatic winner of Madrid’s San Silvestre Vallecana 10km race on New Year’s Eve.
After these wins, Steel should be the safest bet for victory in the Scottish capital Edinburgh.
The strongest competition for Steel could come from Ireland’s two-time European cross country champion Fionnuala Britton, who took sixth in Samokov last month.
Two places further up the results in Samokov was Belgium’s Almensch Belete, who could also challenge Steel, while the talented Emelia Gorecka is another Briton to be watched and the 20 year-old did well in Edinburgh last year, taking third place.
Jorg Wenig for the IAAF