Meselech Melkamu striding towards victory at the Ethiopian World XC trials in Addis Ababa (Bizuayehu Wagaw) © Copyright
On a day of dominant performances and few surprises, Ethiopian athletes took the first steps in a bid to recover from a relatively-humiliating performance in last year's world cross where the team returned home with a solitary individual medal.
Melkamu takes fourth national title, but can she finally deliver on the world stage?
That medal last year - a bronze in the women's 8Km senior race - went to Melkamu, who has been ever-present in Ethiopia's World Cross Country teams since making her debut in 2003. Under warm conditions and on her favorite course, the 25-year-old dominated proceedings before taking her fourth national title, her third in as many years.
Melkamu was patient enough to allow her club mate and world championship 10,000m bronze medallist Wude Ayalew to dictate the pace of the race early on by calmly settling in a leading pack of four after two kilometers with 2008 and 2009 junior champion Genzebe Dibaba, in her first senior appearance, and 2008 World junior 5000m champion Sule Utura also in the reckoning behind Ayalew.
But the pack had little answer when Melkamu took over the lead just past the halfway mark. Ayalew tried in earnest to mount any sort of challenge at that point, but Melkamu continued to increase her lead as she moved towards the finish. Behind the front runner, early leader Ayalew started to tire and was easily overtaken first by Hiwot Ayalew and then track runner Belaynesh Olijara. G. Dibaba was nowhere near a challenging position, while a struggling Utura dropped out of the race just before the last lap.
Helped on by a cheering crowd, Melkamu continued her stroll to the finish with embarrassing ease unchallenged by the chasing pack before stopping the clock at 21:23. H. Ayalew took second ahead of Olijara and W. Ayalew.
"The difficult part of the race was the challenge from the wind and hot weather, not from the competitors," said Melkamu. "The competition between athletes used to be very tough when I was a junior, but these days, I think it has become less competitive. I did normal training for this competition and I want to get gold in Spain."
Mesfin takes first senior title, continues progress
While Melkamu's victory was expected given the strength of the field and the absence of three-time World Cross Country champion Tirunesh Dibaba, youngster Hunegnaw Mesfin's dominant victory in the men's race was largely unexpected. Yet the 21-year-old who won two Cross Country circuit in the 2009/10 season was unfazed by the presence of resurgent runner Yenew Alamirew and track specialist Imane Merga.
It was Alamirew, fresh his 7:27 performance in Stuttgart over the indoor 3000m two weeks ago, who tried to exert influence over proceedings by hitting the front right at the beginning of the contest. But Mesfin and Cross Country stalwarts like Merga, Abebe Dinkesa, Yetwale Kende and others kept tabs on the young runner.
But they could not match Mesfin's third lap kick which seemed to take all by surprise. But there was no surprise in the way he increased his lead after easily surging ahead of Merga, marathoner Feyisa Lelisa, and African 5000m champion Abera Kuma. In fact, the three chasers continued to battle for second leaving Mesfin to continue increasing his lead.
By the time the chasing pack had settled the battle for second place, Mesfin was more than 10 seconds clear in front and waved to the crowds before crossing the line in 32:20 with Merga winning the battle for second in 32:33. Dino Sefer, who had been backtracking the chasing trio for more than three laps, eventually caught them to finish third in 32:35.
"I expected the race to be tough because there were my friends from the national team like Abera Kuma and Ayele Abshiro," said Mesfin after his dominant victory. "Before the race, we had discussed about kicking after the third lap with athletes from the national team and I went for it. But no one managed to follow me. I hope we will change the World Cross Country result which was dominated by the Kenyans last year."
Cherenet and Yalew take junior crowns
For some, the Ethiopian trials are much more than a race in the annual competition calendar. Before entering the men's junior race representing the Oromiya regional team, Tesfaye Cherenet was previously unknown to local athletics observers. But after the most competitive race of the day where Cherenet, Bonsa Dadu, and Fikadu Habtu entered the last 100 metres of the race running side by side, Cherenet emerged victorious in 21:32 ahead of Habtu (21:33) and Dida (21:39) and is poised to take the first plane trip of his life.....to Spain!
"I am very glad to win this race," he said. "It is the result of two weeks of preparations and I don't expect this kind of result. The World Cross Country will be my first international race and it was the moment I was waiting for a long time."
Even before turning 19, and in marked contrast, World junior 3000m bronze medalliist Genet Yalew has already clocked thousands of miles travelling for races around the world and will be adding Spain to her itinerary thanks to victory in the junior women's race. The 18-year-old controlled the race from the beginning to the end before beating Afera Godefay and domestic rival Emebet Anteneh, silver medallist over the 3000m at the world juniors last year.
"I have previously competed in national and regional races held here and therefore, I am not new for this course," she said. "I trained well, but I was not sure about winning today's race. Today's weather was a bit difficult, but I want to improve my result in Spain."
Elshadai Negash (with the assistance by Bizuayehu Wagaw) for the IAAF
Leading Results (courtesy of EAF):
12 Km Senior Men
1. Hunegnaw Mesfin (Commercial Bank) 32.20
2. Imane Merga (Defence) 32:33
3. Dino Sefr (Federal Police) 32:35
4. Feysa Lelisa (Defence) 32:40
5. Abera Kuma (Muger) 32:46
6. Belete Assefa (Federal Prison) 32:57
8 Km Senior Women
1. Meselech Melkamu (EEPCO) 21:23
2. Hiwot Ayalew (Commercial Bank) 24:31
3. Belaynesh Oljira (Commercial Bank) 24:37
4. Wude Ayalew (EEPCO) 24:40
5. Genzebe Dibaba (Muger) 24:48
6. Merima Mohammed (Federal Prison) 24:53
8 Km Junior Men
1. Tesfaye Chernet (Oromiya) 21:32
2. Fikadu Habtu (Mesebo) 21:34
3. Bonsa Dida (Oromiya) 21:39
4. Gemechu Adao (Tirunesh Dibaba Academy) 21:40
5. Ytayal Atnafu (EEPCO) 21:42
6. Muktar Edris (South Region) 21:47
6 Km Junior Women
1. Genet Yalew (Defence) 18:27
2. Afera Godefay (Alfa Engineering) 18:41
3. Bizunesh Driba (Oromiya) 18:52
4. Emebet Anteneh (Defence) 18:53
5. Azmera Gebru (EEPCO) 18:53
6. Muktar Edris (South Region) 18:53
- Meselech Melkamu striding towards victory at the Ethiopian World XC trials in Addis Ababa (Bizuayehu Wagaw) © Copyright
- Hunegnaw Mesfin (c) after taking the senior title at the Ethiopian World XC trials (Organisers) © Copyright
- Meselech Melkamu (c) after her dominating victory at the Ethiopian World XC trials (Organisers) © Copyright