By Isaack Omulo
KAMPALA (Reuters) – Kenya and their east African middle and long-distance running rivals, Ethiopia, will come face-to-face again at the 42nd World Cross Country Championships in the Ugandan capital Kampala on Sunday.
The two countries who have dominated the global event more than any other nation, have strong teams at this year’s event which is held at the picturesque Kololo Independence Ground.
Kenya’s world champion Geoffrey Kamworor, leads a strong team in the 10km senior men’s race, but many believe Ethiopia, led by national champion, Getaneh Molla, should challenge.
A total of 557 athletes from 59 countries will face a testing course which has been fitted with a water jump and a hill to challenge the runners endurance.
“The quality of performances you will see tomorrow absolutely and quintessentially exemplifies the fact that this is a truly global sport,” Sebastian Coe, IAAF President, told reporters.
“There’s no greater heartland for that talent and that passion than Africa for these cross country championships. This is a country, and this is a continent that takes cross country very seriously.”
Despite finishing third at the Kenyan trials last month, Kamworor — World Half Marathon champion in Cardiff last year –and Leonard Barsoton, who won the Kenyan trials, are favourites in the senior men’s race.
Stern competition is expected from Molla and Ethiopian team mates Muktar Edris, Abadi Hadis — a national 10,000m champion — Mohos Tuemay and Ibrahim Jeilan.
Ugandan hopes rest on national champion Joshua Cheptegei, African cross country silver medalist Phillip Kipyeko and Timothy Toroitich.
“We have the experience and the best athletes. We have trained well and I have no doubt that we will triumph,” Kenya’s Leonard Komon told Reuters at the Kololo Independence Ground on Saturday.
Olympic 1,500m champion, Faith Kipyegon and three-time winner over the same distance, Asbel Kiprop, will lead Kenya in a new event — the mixed relay.
However, much is expected of USA led by Kenyan-born Paul Chelimo and Ethiopia led by Genzebe Dibaba.
Kenyan Agnes Tirop, women’s 8km senior defending champion, will lead a team including African champion Alice Aprot and Kipyegon in a race expected to be dominated by Kenya and Ethiopia.
World Cross Country silver medalist Senbere Teferi, who also won silver in 5,000m at the World Championships in Beijing, Belaynesh Oljira, Dera Dida and Sentayehu Lewetegn will lead the Ethiopian challenge against Kenya.
(Editing by Tom Hayward)