GUIYANG, March 26- Kenya perennial rivals, Ethiopia, are determined to get a march on their rivals and other competitors on Saturday when the 41st IAAF World Cross Championships get underway here in Guiyang starting at 12 noon local time (+8GMT).
Their whole complement of 24 runners arrived in this lakeside Chinese city on Wednesday evening hoping to reclaim the glory days of World Cross legends, Kenenisa Bekele, Worknesh Kidane and Tirunesh Dibaba who remain the most medalled male and female athletes in the history of the now biennial event.
Kenenisa who recently pulled out of April’s London Marathon injured has collected an unmatched medal haul of 27, 16 of them gold, 12 individual and four team in his chequered period of dominance that stretched from 2001 to 2008.
Retired Worknesh is the most female runner of all time with 21, 11 golds, six silvers and four bronzes whilst Tirunesh, who’s absent on maternal duty has five golds and three silvers.
Ethiopia also leads the overall team titles count with 121 against Kenya’s 119 although the latter have bagged more team titles with 81, well ahead of their chief rival’s 42.
The numbers will be cast to history when the latest instalment kicks off at the muddy course in Guiyang with Ethiopia keen to improve on the lone individual and team title they won in Poland in 2013 in the junior men where Hagos Gebrehiwot beat Kenya’s Leonard Barsoton to the top medal as his teammates wrapped up the least points in the team contest.
Ethiopia, who possess a largely fresh faced squad, were among the top attractions when they stepped out to the training track in Guanshanhu Park around the Jinyang Nations Square in Xiaowangtiai with their bright yellow, green and red number that is world famous for distance running excellence.
“I have trained with the national team together. I have special training for cross country with God, I can do it this year,” Tamirat Tola, the surprise winner of the 12km senior race at the Janmeda Cross Country Championships in Addis Ababa that is the country’s selection event asserted.
In flooring Hagos, the 2013 junior titleholder and Muktar Edris, a former World Junior gold medallist, Tamirat arrived with China with a point to prove as he bids to lead the line to reclaim the title last won by former World 5000m champion, Imane Merga in Punta Umbria, Spain in 2011.
Bonsa Dida, Atsedu Tsegay and Tesfaye Abera complete their challengers’ for the Holy Grail of World Cross running.
– Fresh faces-
While the world if familiar with the likes of Tirunesh and Kidane, Ethiopia will parade a largely fresh line-up in the senior women’s race that has the brief of wresting the title held by Kenya since 2009 when Florence Kiplagat won in Amman, Jordan to snap their streak.
Since then, Emily Chebet twice in 2010 and 13 and Vivian Cheruiyot in 2011 have kept the women’s long race title north of their shared border.
Unheard of Genet Yalew scorched the field at Janmeda to front the Guiyang 2015 class and has immediately set sights on emulating her idol and three-time senior champion Tirunesh Dibaba on Saturday.
Yalew uncorked the afterburners on seasoned favourites Belaynesh Oljira, the two-time World Championships bronze winner, Alemitu Haroye, the World Junior 5000m champion and Mamitu Daska, the 66:27 career best Half Marathoner at the selection event and should she continue her upward trajectory, she could well earn the crown of the revelation of Guiyang 2015.
“I have tried so many times and at the last edition, I lost because I tactically did not run well, it was not because I don’t have talent,” she boldly stated through a translator.
“Now, I can win, I’ve trained hard in Addis but the weather here is not like Ethiopia. Anyway, I will try my best,” she added on Thursday after shaking off the jet lag with two light sessions on the training track in the morning and around the team hotel in the afternoon.
First timers Netsanet Gudeta and Senbere Taferi complete their women 8km armada.
Yihunilign Adane, Haymanot Alewe, Abe Gashahun, Yasin Haji, Yohans Mekasha and Adane Weletaw who are tasting the showpiece cross showdown for the first time are Ethiopia’s hopes in the men 8km junior race.
To round off the team, Dera Dida, Letesenbet Gidey, Dagmawit Kidane, Zerfe Lemeneh, Mihret Tefera and Etagegn Woldu will vie for the medals in the women junior 6km.
Just like Kenya, the country has lost talent to Qatar, Bahrain and Spain through naturalisation but on Saturday, their former compatriots just like their archenemies will be on their radar in the battle supreme.
-Mutwiri Mutuota is reporting from Guiyang, China/Picture IAAF