Rotich in mood to secure another win for Kenyans
There will be a strong challenge from several Kenyan athletes in the men's 10.8k event at the IAAF International Cross Country at Greenmount, Antrim tomorrow.
Great Britain stars Andy Vernon and Frank Tickner enjoy significant success on the European scene but a win by either would break the trend in the 36 year history of this event in which there have only been two non-African winners since Eamon Martin's victory in 1991.
Nine-times European champion Sergei Lebid of Ukraine, winner in 2003, and US 10,000m record holder Dathan Ritzenheim who won two years later are the only athletes to have broken the African domination.
Pundits do not anticipate any change tomorrow in the Antrim Borough Council-sponsored race.
This is because two of last year's top six finishers have once again returned and should make podium finishes.
In particular 26-year-old Bernard Rotich of Kenya will be determined to make amends for his valiant efforts last year to stay with classy winner Mike Kigen.
Rotich and his fellow countryman fought out a tough battle for most of the race which took place in driving rain and strong winds.
However a determined Kigen was not going to be denied his third successive victory, while an exhausted Rotich was caught by several athletes before fighting back to finally secure third place.
Rotich — a two hours 10 minutes marathon runner — recently recorded useful runner-up spots in the Swansea 10k and the Bristol Half Marathon.
However at Greenmount he will be keeping a wary eye on fellow Kenyan Joseph Birech (29) who last year finished a short distance behind Rotich in sixth place.
Birech won the Glasgow Half Marathon last autumn but is best known for his bronze medal in the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games 10,000m.
He finished just over a second behind winner Moses Kipsoro of Uganda who had previously acquired something of a Belfast fan base by winning the Stormont International in 2007 and 2008.
David Bett (20) could easily upstage his older compatriots if he translates his track class to the muddy Greenmount conditions.
Back in 2010, Bett — who had already taken silver in the World Youth Championships — reached new levels with victory in the World Junior Championships 5,000m in Canada.
Shortly afterwards he ran a world class 5,000m time of 13 mins 6 secs in Zurich.
While his more recent performances have been a little slower, he could still be a major threat tomorrow.
Marathon specialist Julius Maisei may find the Antrim distance on the short side.
However he does have a classy PB of 2.08.13 and finished second in Hong Kong a year ago.
Also in the line-up is Thomas Ayeko (20) of Uganda who has a 10,000m PB of 27.43.22. Ayeko finished 16th in the famous race at the London Olympics in which Mo Farah took gold.
Kenyan athletes have never dominated in the women's 5.6k.
Although all eyes will be on double European champion Fionnuala Britton from Wicklow, Kenya's Eunice Kales should also be well to the fore, while Magdaline Masai has a 5,000m PB of 15.18.
Races start from 11am with international events from 2.15pm.