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Obiri favourite at the Italica Cross

Hellen Obiri wins the senior women’s race at the IAAF/Mikkeller World Cross Country Championships Aarhus 2019 (Getty Images) © Copyright

NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 18 – World champion Hellen Obiri and Ethiopia’s Tadese will be the marquee athletes at the ‘Cross Internacional de Itálica’ in Santiponce on the outskirts of Seville on Sunday, the sixth leg of the 2019/20 World Athletics Cross Country Permit series.

The event promises to be a rematch of last Sunday’s races in Elgoibar as both podiums will be on show again.

Will Worku confirm breakthrough?

Turning 18 the day after the race, the young Ethiopian will be happy to celebrate his birthday one day in advance with a victory to confirm his overwhelming win last weekend was no fluke.

The reigning world U-20 cross country silver medallist proved to be in stellar form last Sunday and should be tipped as the main favourite in the 10km event.

One of his stiffest opponents should be Burundi’s Thierry Ndikumwenayo, the 22-year-old who will be making his sixth appearance on Spanish soil this cross country campaign.

He’s produced three wins — in Alcobendas (24 Nov), Aranda de Duero (1 Dec) and Cantimpalos (8 Dec) — plus a runner-up finish in Soria (17 Nov).

The Italy-based runner, who was ninth at the World Cross Country Championships in Aarhus last year, only finished outside the top-five in Atapuerca (9 Nov) where he finished sixth.

Kenya’s Richard Yator and Aron Kifle, runner-up and third respectively in Elgoibar should also be in contention.

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The Kenyan was 13th in Aarhus while Kifle has changed his base from Madrid to Nijmegen after joining the Global Sports agency.

He will be joined by fellow Eritrean Yemane Haileselassie, an 8:11.22 3000m steeplechase specialist who reached the Rio Olympics final.

Watch out too for USA’s Paul Chelimo and Shadrack Kipchirchir. The former is the reigning Olympic 5000m silver medallist and is fresh from a fourth place in Elgoibar while Kipchirchir came tenth at the Doha worlds over 10,000m and holds a PB of 27:07.55 set in 2017.

Robel Fsiha of Sweden and Turkey’s Aras Kaya, the gold and silver medallists at last month’s European Cross Country Championships, will clash again in Seville.

However, both don’t seem to be in the same kind of form that led them to medals in Lisbon; Kaya took sixth at Madrid’s New Year’s Eve 10km race in 28:13, fifth in San Giorgio Su Legnano on 6 January — four seconds clear of Fsiha — and sixth again in Elgoibar last weekend.

Spanish hopes rest on Carlos Mayo and Ouassim Oumai. The former took the European U-23 10,000m title in 2017 before being slowed by injuries which prevented him to make an impact in the senior category.

Fully recovered now and his successful medical school studies behind him, Mayo is fresh from a fourth and eight place finishes in Amorebieta and Elgoibar.

As for Oumaiz, the 20-year-old surprised the athletics world by winning the opening permit series race in Atapuerca ahead of some world-class athletes to start the Europeans Cross Country championships as one of the men to beat.

He confessed afterwards that he couldn’t carry that burden and opted to drop out of the race when he fell well behind.

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The Spaniard has recently joined the NN team and seems ready to bounce back on Sunday.

Morocco’s reigning world 3000m steeplechase bronze medallist Soufiane El Bakkali will make his European winter season debut here after finishing sixth last year. Ethiopia’s Amorebieta winner Enyew Mekonnen and Eritrea’s Awet Habte, a 27:48.35 10,000m specialist, will also fight for a top-ten place.

Obiri the woman to beat

The women’s cast is headed by the reigning world cross country champion Hellen Obiri.

The 30-year-old Kenyan kicked-off her winter campaign successfully in Elgoibar where, after running alongside compatriot Beatrice Chebet for most of the race, broke away from the reigning world U20 cross country on the last lap.

The 19-year-old Chebet should pose the main danger for Obiri, again alongside the reigning world 5000m silver medallist Margaret Kipkemboi Chelimo.

The 26-year-old captured a surprise silver in Doha where she set a lifetime best of 14:27.49 and has shown fine form recently by winning a 5km road race in Bolzano on 31 December before taking second at the Campaccio cross country on 6 January.

Trying to deny a Kenyan clean sweep over the 9135m contest will be Ethiopia’s Tsehay Gemechu, fourth at the Doha worlds over 5000m in a career best of 14:29.60.

Barely two weeks later the 21-year-old set a 1:06:00 personal record for the half marathon in New Delhi. She’ll be racing her first race of the year on Sunday.

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Gemechu will be joined by fellow Ethiopian Tsige Abreha, the winner in Amorebieta.

Kenya’s Eva Cherono, third in Elgoibar, and Bahrain’s World Championships marathon silver medallist Rose Chelimo will also be on show.

The European response should come from Spain’s Irene Sánchez-Escribano, fifth in Elgoibar and Britain’s former (2014 and 2015) European XC silver medallist Kate Avery, who finished 30th at the Lisbon Europeans and is fresh from an easy cross country win in Stirling last Saturday.

Weather forecasters predict a pleasant sunny early afternoon on Sunday with temperatures of 12-14 C, some gusts of wind but no chance of rain.

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