American Garrett Heath will face a strong line-up of major championship medal winners when he returns to Edinburgh to defend the 4km international title in the 2015 Great Edinburgh XCountry meeting at Holyrood Park on Saturday, 10 January.
Heath, from Winona, Minnesota and a graduate in management science and engineering from Stanford University, produced an inspired performance to emerge as surprise winner of this year’s race in the Scottish capital, but 12 months on, the 29-year-old will have to contend with a field loaded with the athletics world’s equivalent of Oscar winners.
Heading the list is Asbel Kiprop, the Kenyan who won the 2008 Olympic 1500m title, back in action in Beijing next summer.
He will be attempting to follow in the footsteps of the great north Africans, Noureddine Morceli and Hicham El Guerrouj, as a three-time winner of the coveted IAAF World Championship 1,500m crown.
Kiprop prevailed in the Edinburgh mud in 2012 but was one of those pedigree contenders surprised by Heath in 2014, finishing third.
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The 2015 field also includes the reigning world cross country champion Japhet Korir. The Kenyan became the youngest ever senior men’s world cross country champion when he triumphed as a 19-year-old in Bydgoszcz, Poland, in 2013 and will be aiming to defend his crown in Guiyang, China, in March.
The Kenyan presence is further strengthened by the two Commonwealth 1,500m champions: James Magut, who won at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and Silas Kiplagat, who was victorious in the previous Games in New Delhi in 2010. Then there is the world No 1 in the 3,000m steeplechase, Jairus Birech, who was surprisingly beaten by Kenyan team-mate Jonathan Ndiku in the Games final at Hampden Park in July – and Yomiuf Kejelcha, the 17-year-old Kenyan who won the 5,000m title at the IAAF World Junior Championships in Eugene, Oregon, this summer.
At the other end of the age spectrum is the remarkable Peter Pan figure of Bernard Lagat, who turned 40 on 12 December.
The Kenyan-born American, who achieved a famous 1,500m-5,000m double at the 2007 World Championships in Osaka, Japan, starts life as a forty-something athlete still as a major championship medal winner. He claimed the 3,000m bronze medal at the World Indoor Championships in Sopot, Poland, in March this year.
The line-up also features 2006 Commonwealth 5,000m champion Augustine Choge, 2012 Olympic 5,000m bronze medallist Thomas Longosiwa and 2008 Olympic 5,000m bronze medallist Edwin Soi, all Kenyans. The European challenge is led by Krystian Zalewski, the Pole who took silver in the 3,000m steeplechase at the European Championships in Zurich in August.
The Great Edinburgh XCountry meeting will be shown live on BBC One from 1pm to 2.35pm and the race schedule will also feature an appearence by Mo Farah, Britain’s Olympic, world and European 5,000m and 10,000m champion.
The race is part of a New Year festival for runners of all abilities, based at Holyood Park.
The popular Great Winter Run is held on a scenic 5k course that loops around Arthur’s Seat.
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