With 22 years between the youngest and oldest competitors, the senior women’s race at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships, Guiyang 2015 will be a battle between youth and experience.
The ability to adapt to the humid conditions in Guiyang will also play a vital role.
The past two months haven’t been plain sailing for 2010 and 2013 world cross-country champion Emily Chebet. The 29-year-old was only awarded a wildcard at the discretion of selectors, having failed to automatically qualify for the Kenyan team after dropping out of the 8km trials race.
But having proven herself reliable on the international cross stage twice already and after taking two podium finishes in Spain earlier this year, it would be foolish to see past last year’s Commonwealth 10,000m bronze medallist in Guiyang in her pursuit for a hat-trick of world cross-country titles.
Despite the absence of Kenyan champion and two-time junior world cross-country champion Faith Kipyegon, it will be a tough ask for the other 25 countries in the senior women’s race to challenge the nation’s stranglehold on the trophy, which has remained unchallenged since 2009.
Besides Chebet, Agnes Tirop is making her international senior debut, having taken silver in the junior race two years ago. The two-time world junior 5000m bronze medallist also took the junior title at last year’s African Cross Country Championships and will play a vital role in Kenya’s ambition to win their fifth consecutive team title.
The 19-year-old already impressed earlier this season by demonstrating her strength at the Eldoret Discovery Cross Country in January, beating Commonwealth steeplechase champion Purity Cherotich over the 6km distance.
Meanwhile, Janet Kisa and Alice Aprot, who finished second and third respectively at the 2014 African Championships, are two more Kenyan forces to be reckoned with.
Eager to challenge the East African nation’s hegemony in the event will of course be neighbours Ethiopia, with 2011 junior silver medallist Genet Yalew leading the way.
Last month the 22-year-old demonstrated her dominance in the mud by leaving behind the likes of world junior 5000m champion Alemitu Heroye and world 10,000m and cross-country bronze medallist Belaynesh Oljira, both of whom also feature on the team.
Ethiopian cross trials winner and world steeplechase silver medallist Hiwot Ayalew is missing from the team, focusing on her outdoor season, while Heroye, who dominated the junior race in Addis Ababa, will be forming part of the senior team.
Uganda’s Juliet Chekwel could be a dark horse in the race for precious metal. The former 10,000m national record-holder bounced back from injury at her national trials last month to upstage a strong field of experienced opponents to win by a 27-second margin. The 25-year-old finished ninth at the 2013 World Cross Country Championships, but will without doubt have her sight set on the event in two years’ time, when her nation will be hosting the 2017 edition of the championships in Kampala.
Hoping to cause an upset in her hometown of Guiyang is China’s Ding Changqin. The 23-year-old knows her way around the course and has proven herself on the track in 2014, having taken home silver and bronze medals from last year’s Asian Games in Inchon over 10,000m and 5000m respectively.
At the 2014 Chinese Cross Country Championships, Changqin won both the short and long course titles with ease, and is hopeful her home advantage will make its presence felt. But the 23-year-old may still be feeling the effects of having run a 2:26:54 marathon PB just six days before the World Cross.
Meanwhile, 21-year-old team-mate Zhang Xinyan is making her international senior debut, having swept both of the senior women’s titles at this year’s national championships in February.
With many juniors making the transition to senior in this year’s championships – World University Games 5000m bronze medallist Mai Shoji is leading a Japanese senior team whose average age is 21 – others will be relying on experience. Spain’s Jacqueline Martin, for example, will be making her 14th appearance at the World Cross, 23 years after making her junior debut in Boston 1992.
Commonwealth marathon bronze medallist Jessica Trengove of Australia will be competing at her second World Cross, while European cross-country champion Gemma Steel of Great Britain will be lining up for a third time and is set to improve her position from the previous two editions.
Having taken team bronze medals in two of the past three editions of the championships and sending an experienced team, the United States, led by national champion Laura Thweatt, can never be discounted. Thweatt, who is making her international debut, is looking to build on a successful 2014 campaign in which she set PBs in every event she contested, from 800m to the half marathon.
Michelle Sammet for the IAAF