Ethiopia and Kenya expected to continue their dominance.
Written by: Sean McKeon
The 2010 IAAF World Cross Country Championships will take place March 28th in Bydgoszcz, Poland. The men’s race will be an exiting one with perennial champions Zersenay Tadese of Eritrea and Kenenisa Bekele of Ethiopia both deciding to pass on the meet this year, leaving a talented field to battle for the win. The women’s race, in contrast, will feature the two fastest women on grass in three-time champion Tirunesh Dibaba of Ethiopia and two-time medalist Linet Masai of Kenya.
Leading the list of contenders on the men’s side is defending champion Gebre Gebremariam of Ethiopia. Gebremariam took down Tadese last year in Amman and proved that he can rise to the occasion. The Ethiopian team is strong, as Gebremariam will be joined by 2009 junior champion Ayele Abshero and Ethiopian champion Azmeraw Bekele. Looking to take down the Ethiopians will be a strong contingent of Kenyans led by 19-year-old Paul Tanui, the recently crowned Kenyan national champion. Tanui placed fourth in the junior race in Amman, but has since moved his training base to Japan and flourished. Joining Tanui is veteran Leonard Komen, who has placed no worse than fourth in the last four world championships. Also seeking to claim a world title will be 2009 sliver medalist Moses Kipsiro of Uganda and Samuel Tsegay, the top contender coming out of Eritrea.
Leaving the African continent, there are certainly athletes with the talent to find themselves in contention for a medal in Poland. Steeplechase world record holder Saif Saaeed Shaheen is listed to start for Qatar and could be a major threat to the African nations. Recent 3000m world silver medalist Sergio Sanchez of Spain has been the most impressive European thus far in 2010. Joining Sanchez in the lead pack will be fellow Spaniard Alemayehu Bezabeh and Britain’s Mo Farah. Mexico’s Juan Luis Barrios will lead the charge from the Americas.
The US contingent was dealt a major blow when former junior medalist Dathan Ritzenhein pulled out a month before the race. Leading the young American team will be Patrick Smyth, Scott Bauhs and Bobby Curtis. A top-five team placing for the Americans would be considered a major accomplishment.
Individuals: 1. Gebre Gebremariam, 2. Paul Tanui, 3. Samuel Tsegay, 4. Saif Saaeed Shaheen, 5. Moses Kipsiro
Teams: 1. Kenya, 2. Ethiopia, 3. Uganda, 4. Eritrea, 5. Spain
The battle of Ethiopia and Kenya may be even more intense on the women’s side. Three-time champion Tirunesh Dibaba of Ethiopia should be considered the overall favorite going into the race. Dibaba’s dominance on the track is unquestionable, but Kenya’s dominance on grass is just as strong. Kenya’s leading lady, Linet Masai, is the reigning world 10,000m champion and lost the world cross country title last year by only three seconds. It is inevitable these two women will race hard from the gun and test each other’s conditioning to the line.
Outside of the two favorites, there are plenty of other contenders who have the ability to challenge for spots on the podium. Kenya’s Lineth Chepkurui was fourth in 2009 and was the Kenyan national runner-up behind Masai in 2010. Ethiopia sends 2009 10,000m world silver medalist Meselech Melkamu and 2003 long-course champion Werknesh Kidane. A legitimate contender will come from the United States in national champion Shalane Flanagan. Flanagan was a surprise bronze medalist over 10,000m at the Beijing Games and dominated the US championship race. Another former champion, Aussie Benita (Johnson) Willis, will toe the line in Poland, looking to recapture her glory from 2004. Others to watch for include 2009 European champion Hayley Yelling of Great Britain, 2009 sixth-place finisher Hilda Kibet of The Netherlands, and 2009 world 1500m champion Maryam Yusuf Jamal of Bahrain.
Individuals: 1. Tirunesh Dibaba, 2. Linet Masai, 3. Meselech Melkamu, 4. Lineth Chepkurui, 5. Shalane Flanagan
Teams: 1. Kenya, 2. Ethiopia, 3. Morocco, 4. Portugal, 5. United States