There were mixed fortunes for the two defending champions at Saturday’s (7 January) IAAF Cross Country Permit Meeting in Belfast.
Etalemahu Kidane once again won the women’s race in a sprint finish but Dathan Ritzenhein was beaten by Barnabas Kosgei as Kenya’s excellent record in the Northern Ireland capital continued.
Kosgei resumes Kenyan supremacy - men’s race
Last year, Ritzenhein was allowed to open a big lead as the Africans – including Kosgei - left it too late to mount their challenge, but the World junior cross country bronze medallist had clearly learned from his mistakes and was never far from the front.
Again Ritzenhein tried to set the pace with European indoor 3000m champion Alistair Cragg, Tewodros Shiffraw, Ugandan Moses Kipsiro, and Samson Kiflemariam the main challengers.
On the second of five laps, Irish hopeful Cragg began to lose touch with the leaders as Ritzenhein, Shiffraw, Kipsiro, Kiflemariam and Kosgei pulled away, and it was the defending champion who was dictating the pace.
Ethiopian steeplechaser Shiffraw was the next to be dropped towards the end of the lap and the third circuit saw Eritrean youngster Kiflemariam slip off the pace as Kosgei and Kipsiro moved ominously onto the leader’s shoulder.
The trio battled it out stride for stride until the closing stages of the penultimate lap when Ritzenhein began to lose ground, and despite his valiant efforts to hang on – roared on by the Irish spectators – the American knew his title was slipping away.
There was nothing to choose between Kosgei and Kipsiro throughout the final lap until they entered the finishing straight where the Kenyan got the upper hand to win by one second.
Kosgei, third last year, declared: “I am very happy to have won. It was a good race and I was pleased to come out on top.”
Kipsiro, the Ugandan junior 3000m record holder, was well clear of third placed Ritzenhein, who said: “I thought my best chance of winning was to take the pace out and I think I ran a good race, but I was up against some good athletes. I gave it everything I’d got and was helped by some great support from the spectators, but I wasn’t sharp enough to stay with them.
“I’ll be running in Edinburgh next week and it should be one of the best races of the winter apart from the World Cross Country Championships,” Ritzenhein continued. “I’ll be up against Kenenisa Bekele, who I’ve raced a few times and he’s always beaten me. But I hope to run well and set myself up for a good year when I hope to make huge progress.”
Cragg is one athlete who knows what it’s like to beat Bekele, having done so indoors over 3000m at the Boston Indoor Games last year and he’ll be returning to that race again late this month, taking on the likes of Craig Mottram.
Replay for Kidane – women’s race
The women’s race was in many ways similar to last year with an Irish hopeful setting the pace for much of the race before an Ethiopian - again Kidane – sprinted to victory.
Jolene Byrne ran well on this course last year but was reduced to spectating due to ankle ligament damage, but Mary Cullen took over the role as crowd pleaser with a gutsy display.
She took out the early pace with British four-mile road record holder Kate Reed and Eleanor Sherrard-Smith of Wales leading the European challenge with an Ethiopian trio of Kidane, Deriba Alemu and Ashu Kasim following closely behind.
By the end of the first of three laps, it was down to five – Cullen, Reed and the three Africans and it was the home favourite who led until the final circuit when the race heated up.
Reed was the first to lose touch early into the third lap as Alemu – who helped Ethiopia to team success at last year’s World Cross Country Championships 4Km, where she finished ninth – pushed the pace.
It soon became clear that last lap would be dominated by the Ethiopians. While Cullen tried hard to stay in touch, it came down to the final sprint where it was Kidane who had that extra touch of class, winning by one second as she had done last year.
The 2004 African 5000m champion said: “I am happy to have won, although Derebe made it hard for me.”
Kasim, who had spent the night sleeping at Heathrow Airport after missing her connection to Belfast, ran well for third with Cullen in fourth.
Men (9810m) -
1. Barnabas Kosgei (KEN) 28:05
2. Moses Kipsiro (UGA) 28:06
3. Dathan Ritzenhein (USA) 28:20
4. Samson Kiflemariam (ERI) 28:43
5. Tewodros Shiffraw (ETH) 28:45
6. Alistair Cragg (IRL) 29:09
Women (5930m) -
1. Etalemu Kidane (ETH) 19:09
2. Deribe Alemu (ETH) 19:10
3. Ashu Kasim (ETH) 19:14
4. Mary Cullen (IRL) 19:20
5. Kate Reed (GBR) 19:23
6. Orla O’Mahony (IRL) 19:58
Bob Frank for the IAAF