Thursday, 21 March 2013

World XC Champs - Senior women's preview - Ayalew and Muriuki head open senior battle


With Kenyan duo and 2011 gold and silver medallists Vivian Cheruiyot and Linet Masai preferring to focus their attentions on the track season ahead, and Ethiopia’s four-time champion and 2012 Olympic 10,000m winner, Tirunesh Dibaba withdrawing through injury, the senior women’s race at the 2013 IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland this Sunday (March 24) could be viewed as an open affair.

Despite the lack of big name entrants, the championship will however continue to host a breeding ground for potential future stars of the global distance running community, and Hiwot Ayalew and Margaret Muriuki are top of the list of gold medal contenders.

Aspiring to clinch her nation’s first victory since 2008, Ayalew asserted her authority in winning the highly competitive Ethiopian trial last month and is a much-improved athlete compared to the runner who finished eleventh in the last global contest in Punta Umbria two years ago.

The 23-year-old finished fifth in the Olympic 3,000m steeplechase in London last summer before switching surfaces to take the first leg of the IAAF XC Permit Series back in November in Burgos, Spain, and looks set to threaten the medal podium in Poland.

Eager to continue the Kenyan stranglehold of the winners’ trophy, Muriuki was equally impressive in
 claiming her national trial in Nairobi, which doubled as the penultimate leg of the IAAF XC Permit Series.

Turning 27 yesterday (March 21), she finished sixth in the 2010 Championships and despite her relative low profile on the international stage since, Muriuki too could be set to challenge for a medal.

The 2012 African cross country Championship runner-up registered a 69:21 half-marathon best in Lisbon this time last year and is part of a strong Kenyan contingent here.

Her teammate, Emily Chebet will be aspiring for a return to the medal rostrum as the 2010 champion has been in fine form domestically this winter. Despite only finishing fourth in the Kenyan trial, the 27-year-old will hope to recreate the golden memories from her last visit to the course.

Having failed to qualify for her national squad in 2011, Chebet bounced back to claim the bronze medal at the 2012 African cross country Championships and recorded a 30:58 10km road best in Tilburg in September.

Meanwhile, 20-year-old Genet Yalew will be aiming to translate her eye-catching junior form into the fiercer senior ranks.

The 2011 junior silver medallist was a runner-up in the Ethiopian trial and clocked a 14:48.43 5,000m lifetime best in Rome last spring. She will be hoping to match her fifth place finish from the last time she competed in Poland, albeit in the senior event this time around.

Joining the Ethiopian team and bringing a plethora of experience will be four-time bronze medallist Meselech Melkamu.

The third-place finisher at the 2006, 2007, 2009 and 2010 events, Melkamu will hope to maintain her impressive consistency and reach the podium once again after finishing just outside of the medals in the 2011 edition.

Despite finishing only fourth in the Ethiopian trial, the 27-year-old 2011 World 10,000m fifth-placer certainly has the familiarity to cause a medal upset.

Recording a 2:21.01 marathon debut in Frankfurt last autumn, the 2004 junior champion also clocked a useful 68:05 half-marathon in Ras Al Khamiah last month.

Of those determined to disrupt the familiar East African supremacy, Bahrain’s Shitaye Eshete should feature highly.

The 22-year-old finished fifth in the World Indoor 3,000m final twelve months ago and backed her performance up with sixth place in the Olympic 10,000m in London.

Eshete has also finished eleventh and twelfth in the 2010 and 2011 World cross events and is looking capable of finally advancing into the top-ten in Poland.

Two other athletes with high aspirations will be Eritrea’s Nazaret Weldu, following her victory in the IAAF XC Permit in Soria, Spain back in November and Ireland’s Fionnuala Britton.

Britton, the 28-year-old two-time European cross country champion will be making an impressive eighth appearance in the event and looks set to improve on her sixteenth position from Punta Umbria.

A bronze medallist over 3,000m at the recent European Indoor Championships in Gothenburg, Sweden, Britton finished fifteenth in the Olympic 10,000m last summer but appears to have gained in strength and confidence since, winning the Edinburgh and Antrim stages of the IAAF XC Permit Series at the turn of the year.

Nicola Bamford for the IAAF.

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