Uganda’s Dickson Huru and Ethiopia’s Marta Tigabea took the honours at the opening IAAF Cross Country Permit meeting of this winter, the Cross Internacional de Soria in Spain, on Sunday (10).
The relatively unknown Huru got his first ever win outside his native country, and the biggest victory of his life, when he just held off Spain’s former European cross-country champion Alemayehu Bezabeh in a sprint finish after 10km of hard running to become the first ever Ugandan victor in 20 editions of the Soria event.
Bezabeh took an early lead on the first lap, eager to make an impression on his first outing of the autumn, and he was closely followed by Huru, a creditable 19th at the 2011 IAAF World Cross Country Championships which had been held on the Spanish soil of Punta Umbria. The rest of the local contingent stayed in touch with the leading duo but they were running in single file behind former European Steeplechase champion Antonio Jimenez.
By the halfway point in the race, it became clear that barring disaster Bezabeh and Huru would be fighting for the win, while Spain’s Mohamed Marhum moved to the front of the chasing group alongside Jimenez and the reigning European under-23 3000m Steeplechase champion Abdelaziz Merzougui.
Once on the final lap, Bezabeh’s front-running tactics started to look doomed as he could not shake off the detemined Huru.
The Ugandan’s decisive move came on an short uphill section 600 metres from the finish line when he found another gear to establish a slight lead on the Spaniard, which proved to be enough despite Bezabeh’s desperate efforts to catch the Ugandan over the final 200 metres.
Huru won in 30:07 with Bezabeh just one second in arrears. Third place went to Marhum in 30:31 with Jimenez fourth in 30:39.
“I felt OK throughout the race, travelling with Bezabeh throughout. It’s true that it was windy but the sun was also there so I had no problems. I decided to attack only in the later stages and it paid off,” said Huru.
Eritrea’s pre-race favourite Kidane Tadese was in the chasing bunch at the half way point but struggled in the second half of the race and eventually finished 10th.
Tigabea denies local win
The Spain-based Tigabea – a late addition to the women’s 8km race – won a little more comfortably than Huru and had four seconds to spare from the local hope Estela Navascues.
The British trio of Juliet Potter, Lauren Deadman and Katie Brough, along with the eventual winner Tigabea, set the pace from the gun and there was a decent gap between the leading quartet and the best Spanish runners, led by Alba Garcia, at the halfway point.
However, the relentless pace between 5km and 6km dictated by Garcia enabled her, Navascues and Iris Fuentes-Pila to catch up with the leaders just before the final 2km lap while Deadman and Brough simultaneously started to drop back.
At the bell, the 23-year-old Tigabea started pulled away from Garcia, Navascues and Potter to build up a 40-metre advantage with 1.5 kilometres to go and she eventually stopped the clock in 28:06.
Attention then turned to the fierce battle for the other spots on the podium with Navascues, who trains daily on the race circuit, using her experience and local knowledge to break away from the others and secure second place in 28:10, with Garcia one second further back in third.
“Winning an IAAF Permit race is fantastic. I have been training hard so I was confident of running well today. In addition, the circuit was fine but the wind annoyed me a bit as I felt cold. I decided to unleash my attack over the last lap but I knew my chasers were also strong so I wasn’t sure of my victory until I crossed the finish line,” said Tigabea, surprising local reporters by commenting in decent Spanish.
Diana Martin, the World Steeplechase finalist and second in Soria in 2012, was never a factor this year and had to settle for 15th some 45 seconds behind Tigabea. She is still recovering from a heel injury sustained at the end of the summer.
Emeterio Valiente for the IAAF
1 Dickson Huru (UGA) 30:07
2 Alemayehu Bezabeh (ESP) 30:08
3 Mohamed Marhum (ESP) 30:31
4 Antonio Jimenez (ESP) 30:39
5 Abdelaziz Merzougui (ESP) 30:44
6 Antonio Abadia (ESP) 30:51
7 Ivan Fernandez (ESP) 30:56
8 Daniel Mateo (ESP) 30:58
9 Javier Guerra (ESP) 31:08
10 Kidane Tadese (ERI) 31:20
1 Marta Tigabea Mekonen (Ethiopia) 28:06
2 Estela Navascues (ESP) 28:10
3 Alba Garcia (ESP) 28:11
4 Juliet Potter (GBR) 28:12
5 Iris Fuentes-Pila (ESP) 28:17
6 Marta Silvestre (ESP) 28:19
7 Lauren Deadman (GBR) 28:24
8 Elena Espeso (ESP) 28:26
9 Katie Brough (GBR) 28:34
10 Lidia Rodriguez (ESP) 28:36