StGelete Burika Bati of Ethiopia destroyed the world’s best junior cross country runners this afternoon winning the individual gold medal by the largest winning margin ever in this event at the Hippodrome de Saint-Galmier on the first day of the 33rd edition of the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in St-Etienne/St-Galmier.
The Ethiopian’s time of 20:12 on the 6km course was a whopping 27 seconds faster than the barefooted Veronica Wanjiru of Kenya who claimed the silver medal. The Kenyan won the recent national championships and a share of the Athletics Kenya jackpot for winning four domestic cross country races.
Under clear blue skies with unseasonably warm temperatures hovering around 26c degrees , the entire Ethiopian team charged to the front early in the race intent on recording their third consecutive team victory. Their East African neighbours had lined up next to them in the starting boxes and packed their runners into the top ten obviously charged with the responsibility of retrieving supremacy over their rivals.
There was never any doubt as to which teams would occupy the top two places as Burka surged halfway through the second of three laps with only Wanjuri able to respond. With the occasional look over her shoulder the 19 year old proceeded to simply run away from the Kenyan. Wanjuri sported several gashes on her shins the result of her rival’s spikes.
While Burka signalled her command over the field her compatriots didn’t fare quite so well and the Kenyans piled on the pressure. Beatrice Chebus, 17, a student at Tuyobek Primary school in Mulot claimed the individual bronze medal, a great surprise considering she was only 7th at the Kenyan national championships.
Buoyed by the success of these two, and with Mercy Njoroge 4th and the tall figure of Pauline Korikwia crossing the line in 7th place, the Kenyans scored 16 points to Ethiopia’s 22 to claim the team gold medal.
With the two East African nations occupying the top ten places it was left to Akane Wakita of Japan to claim the dubious title of first “non-African.” Bravely running behind the early pack she focused on the Ethiopian stragglers and finished 11th. With her teammate Hitomi Niiya in 13th and Yurika Nakamura running strongly for 15th place the Japanese earned the bronze medal.
“It was very difficult,” confirmed the winner. “The Kenyans were tough. They wouldn’t let me go. But thanks to God, I was able to escape. I did expect to win, because I worked hard in training. I worried about the course because it looked difficult. And it was.”
Paul Gains for the IAAF
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