Kenenisa Bekele en route to his fifth Edinburgh victory (© Mark Shearman)
Kenenisa Bekele will be the star athlete at the Bupa Great Edinburgh Cross Country, an IAAF Cross Country Permit, on Saturday (11).
Held at Holyrood Park, venue of the 2008 IAAF World Cross Country Championships, Bekele will be treading the same soil that played host to his 11th and most recent world cross gold medal
The 31-year-old Ethiopian was victorious at the Great Edinburgh Cross Country three times in a row from 2006 to 2008, but more recently he has suffered two defeats, finishing fourth in 2010 and 11th in 2012.
This will be Bekele’s sixth appearance at the Great Edinburgh Cross Country and he will be keen to even the balance on his score sheet in the Scottish capital.
But Saturday’s race could be a tough test for the 5000m world record-holder, as the 4km distance might be a bit short for someone who is currently in high-mileage training ahead of his marathon debut in Paris on 6 April.
Bekele’s situation might play into the hands of his main contenders; brother Tariku Bekele and world 1500m champion Asbel Kiprop from Kenya. 26-year-old Tariku is the Olympic 10,000m bronze medallist and since 2012 he has defeated older brother Bekele three times, having never done so before.
Kiprop won gold medals over 1500m at the 2008 Olympic Games and 2011 World Championships before retaining his title last year in Moscow. The 24-year-old knows Holyrood Park well, having raced there twice before. In 2011 he finished second, then one year later he won the 3km race, beating Bekele.
But Bekele recently showed that he can still sprint, having beaten Britain’s double Olympic and world champion Mo Farah in a thrilling finish at the Great North Run in September.
European rematch in men’s 8km team race
Additional races – a men’s 8km, a women’s 6km plus two junior competitions – comprise an overall team event with athletes from Britain, the USA and Europe involved.
The men’s 8km event sees the return of last year’s champion, USA’s Bobby Mack. But it will also feature all three medallists from the European Cross Country Championships that took place in December 2013.
It is unlikely that there will be any teamwork between the Europeans. Instead it will more likely be a grudge match with the top contenders out for revenge.
One month ago in Belgrade there was some bad luck for Turkey’s Polat Kemboi Arikan. After leading with Alemayehu Bezabeh, Arikan fell and lost decisive ground early in the race. He managed to get back into second position, but there was no way of catching Spain’s Bezabeh.
But it won’t be just these two athletes involved in a rematch. In Belgrade Britain’s Andy Vernon just edged out Belgium’s Jeroen D’Hoedt for the bronze medal, and both will be in contention on Saturday.
Britton looking to bounce back with 6km hat-trick
Ireland’s Fionnuala Britton will go for a hat-trick in the women’s 6km race, which is also part of the team event and so will not include any African runners.
Britton won in Holyrood Park in impressive style in 2012 and 2013, but her dominance in Europe came to an end at the continental championships when she finished outside the medal positions in fourth in Belgrade.
In Edinburgh she could bounce back as she will be up against the top two from Belgrade. But France’s Sophie Duarte must be regarded as the favourite after her convincing victory at the European Championships. If she is in similar shape it will be difficult for Britton or European cross-country silver medallist Gemma Steel to beat her.
Jörg Wenig for the IAAF