Defending champion Beatrice Chebet facing stern test as she seeks to defend title in Atapuerca

ATHLETICS Defending champion Beatrice Chebet facing stern test as she seeks to defend title in Atapuerca

Abigael Wafula 12:00 - 28.10.2023

Beatrice Chebet, the defending champion, starts as a strong favourite in the women's 8km contest but she faces a stern test from her opponents.

Reigning World cross country champions Beatrice Chebet and Jacob Kiplimo headline the fields for the Cross Internacional de Atapuerca, this season’s second World Athletics Cross Country Tour Gold fixture, on Sunday, October 29.

Chebet, the defending champion, starts as a strong favourite in the women's 8km contest. After claiming her world cross country crown in Bathurst earlier this year, she competed in several Diamond League Meetings and also bagged the 5000m bronze at the World Championships in Budapest.

The 23-year-old then bagged the gold medal in the 5km during the World Road Running Championships held in Riga, Latvia.

The Commonwealth Games 5000m champion will be looking for back-to-back titles and will enjoy the company of her fellow Kenyans Edinah Jebitok, who finished eighth in Bathurst, and Lucy Mawia, who placed third in Amorebieta last weekend.

However, they will face a stern test from the Ethiopian challenge will be provided by Likina Amebaw and Lemlem Nibret. They fought fiercely for the win in Amorebieta, with Amebaw eventually prevailing over her younger compatriot after a thrilling sprint finish.

Uganda's Sarah Chelangat will also be fighting for a place on the podium after lowering her lifetime bests last season to 8:32.53 (3000m) and 14:40.88 (5000). The 22-year-old competed over 10,000m in Budapest, where she finished 10th.

British 3000m steeplechase record-holder Aimee Pratt will also be on show. The home charge will be led by 5000m specialist Marta Garcia (15:02.11 PB) and Esther Navarrete, fresh from a half marathon PB of 1:09:58 in Valencia, plus 3000m steeplechasers Irene Sanchez-Escribano among others.

In the men’s race, Kiplimo will lead the contest which looks set to be a thrilling showdown between him and Burundi’s 2022-23 Cross Country Tour winner Rodrigue Kwizera, with Eritrea's Aron Kifle also among the leading contenders

Kiplimo kicked off his 2023 season in style by taking the gold medal at the World Cross Country Championships in Bathurst in February and he went on to improve his 5000m lifetime best in Oslo thanks to an impressive 12:41.73 clocking for second.

But the 2020 world half marathon champion then sustained a hamstring injury during a speed training session and was forced to withdraw from the World Championships in Budapest.

He is now said to be fully recovered from that injury and will try to grab his second victory in Atapuerca after his 2018 success.

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He will face stiff opposition from Kwizera, who dominated the previous campaign with four wins out of six Cross Country Tour Gold outings.

He will be joined by his compatriot Celestin Ndikumana, fresh from a clear win at the Cross-Country Tour Gold season opener in Amorebieta last weekend, while the Eritrean squad features Kifle and Merhawi Mebrahtu, who was second in Amorebieta.

Uganda's Leonard Chemutai, who was third in Amorebieta, will also be in contention on Sunday alongside Bahrain's Birhanu Balew, 10th in the 10,000m in Budapest.

The Spanish charge will be headed by Abdessamad Oukhelfen and Nassim Hassaous, who placed fifth and eighth respectively last year and have shown fine fitness at this early stage of the season, plus Sergio Paniagua, fifth in Amorebieta last weekend.

Meanwhile, more than 5000 runners from 15 countries will take part in the event, which promises to be an athletics festival on Sunday.