Spain’s Alemayehu Bezabeh and Portugal’s Ines Monteiro clinched convincing victories at the ‘29th Cross Internacional de Venta de Baños' held Sunday (21) on quite a cold but sunny morning which hardly reached 5ºC. In doing so, they managed a rarely seen - at a Cross Country race - European double beating top Africans in the process.
New Spaniards take 1-2 – men’s race
The men’s event, contested over a quite flat 10,575km course featured the full Spanish squad which brilliantly retained the European Cross Country team title a week ago in Brussels, and headed by Bezabeh (7th) and Ayad Lamdassem (4th) while the always powerful African contingent included two sub-27:10 10,000m specialists: Kenya’s Kiprono Menjo and Eritrea’s Kidane Tadese.
The race kicked off very cautiously (3:08 for the opening kilometre) with a large leading pack of no less than 15 men by the second kilometre and the 22-year-old Bezabeh running at the end of the pack very comfortably.
The first remarkable movement came with the clock reading 15 minutes when Italy’s reigning European U-23 champion Andrea Lalli injected a brisker pace alongside Spain’s Chema Martínez, fresh from a 2:11:11 Marathon performance barely two weeks ago in Fukuoka but the latter fell on a muddy area shortly afterwards, eliminating his chances for a win.
Menjo’s change of gear at the seventh kilo reduced the lead pack to Bezabeh, Lamdassem, Kidane and himself but it was the Madrid-based Bezabeh who easily broke away from the rest with one mile left to build a handsome margin of six seconds in a matter of 300 metres.
The long-legged rising star covered the closing stages in style and romped home unopposed in 31:45 while Lamdassem get rid of Tadese to the delight of the crowd to stamp a Spanish 1-2, seven seconds adrift of the winner, while the Eritrean completed a quality podium in third another three seconds behind.
The battle to come first European-born athlete home became fascinating with a tight sprint finish between the 21-year-old Lalli and Spain’s Carlos Castillejo with the Italian prevailing in fifth only one second behind a fading fourth placed Menjo.
Bezabeh has now completed a haul of four podium finishes in the current XC season with two wins (Atapuerca and Venta de Baños) and another couple of third spots (Soria and Llodio) under his belt although the Ethiopian-born new Spanish citizen failed to make the podium at the ‘Eurocross’ in Brussels.
“Of course I travelled to the Belgium capital with medal chances and for much of the race I was in medal position,” said Bezabeh, who was 11th in the Olympic 5000m final. “But finally faltered as it was a very demanding contest with plenty of quality athletes. Today I felt much more comfortable than there, so I’m happy to be victorious again.”
‘Barriers? What barriers?’ – Monteiro takes women’s contest
The women’s 6775m race had been billed on the eve as a rematch between two top steeplechasers in the guise of Kenya’s Eunice Jepkorir and Spain’s local heroine Marta Domínguez as the latter narrowly defeated the Olympic silver medallist Kenyan at the Yecla cross country permit on Sunday 14 December. Portugal’s Ines Monteiro also played a favourite’s role since she was fresh from a bronze medal at the Europeans in Brussels last weekend when she and silver medallist Jessica Augusto led the Portuguese squad to an undisputed team gold medal.
The organization had laid down a series of barriers to make the event tougher and more spectacular for the crowd assembled but nothing seemed to be hurdle for the 28-year-old Portuguese as she started at a terrific pace.
By the 700m point, with barely two minutes on the clock Monteiro was already running in solitude with an astonished Jepkorir trailing in her wake some 20m behind with Portugal’s Dulce Felix alongside the Kenyan. Back in fourth, Domínguez proved not to be in the kind of form she was in last year when she succeeded here one week after her European title in Toro.
After covering the first loop (8.30m into the race) Monteiro had built a seven-second margin over Jepkorir, herself two second ahead of Felix while Domínguez travelled in fourth some 22 seconds in arrears.
At the bell, with the clock reading 16 minutes the leader had broadened her leadership to a 19-second margin on Jepkorir and Felix while Domínguez had been caught by fellow Spaniard Diana Martín.
The final lap also witnessed Monteiro’s magnificent display of strength over the mud and the barriers – she ran a fine 9:39.20 3000m steeplechase in 2005 – before crossing the finish line in 22:41 with a winning margin of no less than 21 seconds on Jepkorir who managed to leave Felix (17th in Brussels) at the beginning of the lap, 11 seconds separating both athletes at the end.
A thrilling sprint finish to take the fourth place took place with Martín (a 9:47.41 steeplechase specialist) marginally ahead of Domínguez (Spanish record holder at 9:21.76) both athletes being credited 23:51.
Monteiro, who became the first Portuguese victor in the 29-year-history of the event, made the journalists assembled smile when she was asked on the barriers placed throughout the circuit. Monteiro, who clocked 2:30.36 at the Rotterdam Marathon this year, replied: “barriers, what barriers?”
Emeterio Valiente for the IAAF
Leading Results -
1. Alemayehu Bezabeh (Esp) 31:45
2. Ayad Lamdassem (Esp) 31:52
3. Kidane Tadese (Eri) 31:55
4. Kiprono Menjo (Ken) 32:10
5. Andrea Lalli (Ita) 32:11
6. Carlos Castillejo (Esp) 32:12
7. Javier Guerra (Esp) 32:21
8. Sergio Sánchez (Esp) 32:45
9. Chema Martínez (Esp) 32:53
10. Cuthbert Nyasango (Zim) 32:54
1. Ines Monteiro (Por) 22:41
2. Eunice Jepkorir (Ken) 23:02
3. Dulce Felix (Por) 23:13
4. Diana Martín (Esp) 23:51
5. Marta Domínguez (Esp) 23:51
6. Yesenia Centeno (Esp) 24:05
7. Alessandra Aguilar (Esp) 24:12
8. Teresa Urbina(Esp) 24:16
9. Judit Plá (Esp) 24:28
10. Simret Sultan (Eri) 24:44