Stiff battle for supremacy in Cape Town - Africa Cross-Country Championships Preview

African Cross Country Championships 2011 in Cape Town/ Photo: African Athletics

Top African distance running nations, Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Uganda and host South Africa will jostle for honours tomorrow at the 2nd CAA Africa Cross Country Championships, at Keurboom Park in Cape Town.

With the absence of a World Cross Country Championships in 2012, the Africa Cross Country Championships will serve as the biggest event this year.
Athletes from 16 other nations such as Morocco, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Congo, Egypt, Uganda, Mauritius, Rwanda, Mozambique, Zambia, Angola, Botswana, Sudan, Namibia, Swaziland, Malawi, Lesotho and Zimbabwe are also expected at the continental event.
The host Country's 24-member team is spearheaded by national 3000m record-holder and cross country champion, Elroy Gelant, who was a finalist at the recently concluded IAAF World Indoor Championships in Istanbul.
Kenya, one of five of the strongest countries in the world, has sent a team of 16 athletes (four athletes in each category) to defend their title. However, this policy carries an element of risk because in case of a withdrawal or injury to a team member, Kenya will not be eligible for the team prize as four athletes are required to finish.  
Kenya dominated the World Cross Country Championships in Punta Umbria, Spain, in March 2011 with African countries such as Ethiopia and Uganda finishing 2nd and 3rd respectively. Eritrea finished 4th, just ahead of South Africa for their best ever team performance.
In 2011, Kenya’s team took the first four positions in the senior men’s race, the first five positions in the senior women, while the junior men and women made a clean sweep of the first six positions.
Event Previews:
Senior Men
South Africa’s Elroy Gelant will compete at his first international Cross Country event on Sunday after returning from the World Indoor Championships that took place in Istanbul from 9-11 March.  Gelant set a new South African Record in the 3000m when he crossed the line in 7:48.64.  
Gelant comfortably won the trials in Potchefstroom on 18 February but did not join the team in Mauritius for the Southern Region Cross Country Championships on 3 March as he competed in the 5000m at the second Yellow Pages Interprovincial in Bellville.
Gelant made no secret of the fact that his athletics season has not officially started yet, but what he has achieved so far motivates him to qualify for the Olympic Games in London.  “I am aware that Sunday will be a big challenge, but my main goal is to be as competitive possible as individual and as a team.”
“Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda and Eritrea will be our biggest competition,” said Gelant, “mainly because of their cohesion and ability to do so well as a team.”  Gelant will be joined by David Manja, Boy Soke, Lungisa Mdadelwa, Dean Brummer and Kgosi Tsosane.
Teklemariam Medhin is one of the Eritreans that can be a thorn in the flesh of team South Africa.  With 6 World Championships in Cross Country behind his name (2 as junior athlete in 2006 and 2007 in Fukuoka and Kenya) his experience will go a long way to assist his team in running for a team prize.  He also helped his team finish 4th at the 2011 World Championships in Spain by finishing 14th overall.  In 2010 at the World Cross Country Championships in Bydgoszcz Medhim won the silver medal.  In 2008 he represented Eritrea in Edinburgh, 2009 in Amman.
Sudan’s only team, a senior men’s team, includes Adam Abdelmunaim.  He is not a newcomer to Cape Town, having competed as a junior in 2011 where he finished 7th.  This 19 year-old went to the World Cross Country Championships from 2009-2011 (Amman, Bydgoszcz and Spain) where he represented Sudan.  His 31st place finish in 2011 was his best at a World Cross Country Championship as a junior athlete. 
With Zambia sending only 3 senior men (and 2 junior women) to compete in Cape Town, Tony Wamulwa is their most experienced athlete on paper.  At the first Africa Cross Country Championships in Cape Town in 2011 Wamulwa finished 7th.
Senior Women
Abebech Afework Bekele is probably the most experienced athlete in the Ethiopian camp as she competed at the Cross Country World Championships in 2010 where she finished 14th.  In the same year she also represented her country at the World Championships in the Half Marathon where she finished 14th in 71:38.
South Africa’s Mpho Mabuza, finished 2nd at the National trials a mere two weeks after she won the silver medal at the SA Marathon Championships in George.   In Mauritius at the Southern Region Cross Country Championships Mabuza won the gold medal.
Swaziland’s only athlete at the Africa Cross Country Championships Winile Mnisi is also a marathon runner.  In 2010 the Commonwealth Games in Delhi she ran her personal best, finishing 13th in 3:18.32.
Junior women
South Africa’s junior women’s team, lead by the Cross Country Trials winner Sylvia Tshetlanyane will be hoping to challenge of the Kenyan and the very young junior women’s team from Uganda.  
Kenya will be represented amongst others by the World Cross Country Champion Faith Chepngetich Kipyegon.  Kipyegon won the World Championships in Punta Umbria, Spain (20 March 2011) in 18:53.  
In 2010 at the World Championships she finished 4th.  She also represented Kenya at the World Youth Championships in France in July where she became the 1500m World Champion in 4:09.48.
Uganda’s Nancy Cheptegei and Stella Chesang have some international experience, as both these athletes represented Uganda at the World Cross Country Championships in Spain last year.  The 17 year-old Cheptegei finished 18th while Chesang, now 16 years-old, finished 39th.
Aynslee van Graan finished 2nd at the National trials in Potchefstroom and is aware of the big challenge ahead on Sunday.  “The competition will be tough, but I would love to help my team win a medal,” said Aynslee who will be joined by sister Kyla in the team.  “We always train and run together and would love to be like the Phalula sisters one day,” was Kyla’s comment after being asked about the sisterhood rivalry.
Junior men
The junior men’s team will consist of Tumisang Monnatlala, Sello Masia, Sello Mokwena, Sithembile Dondolo, Zweli Nzima and Thapelo Madiba with the entire team competing at their fist International event as only a senior team was selected for the Southern Region Cross Country Championships in Mauritius.
The trials in Potchefstroom produced competitive racing with the top 3 athletes only decided in the final lap. On Sunday 18 March, the team will have to work together for a team medal.  
Monnatlala, who won the trials, is very happy to be in the team and feels very privilegded about his inclusion in the team.  “It shows that hard work really pays off, but the competition will be tough on Sunday.”
One of the Malawian junior men is Grevazio Mpani who will be back in Cape Town for the second time after his 8th place finish in 2011. 
Western Province Cricket Club, Keurboom Park
Time Table:
  • 10:00 (08.00 GMT) Junior Women – 6km
  • 10:30 (08.30 GMT) Junior Men - 8km
  • 11:10 (09.10 GMT) Medal Ceremony – Juniors
  • 11:30 (09.30 GMT) Senior Women – 8km
  • 12:10 (10.10 GMT) Senior Men – 12km
  • 12:50 (10.50 GMT) Development Run Juniors – 4km


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