World 5000m champion Tirunesh Dibaba produced a powerful sprint finish to win the senior women’s 8km race, the highlight of the first day’s action in the 22nd Jan Meda Cross Country International in Addis Ababa (26 Feb).
This is the final Ethiopian qualifying meet for the 33rd IAAF World Cross Country Championships in St. Etienne/ St. Galmier, France.
Bekele and Sihine’s World Cross participation in the balance
Both Olympic 10,000m champion Kenenisa Bekele and the man who finished runner-up to him in Athens Sileshi Sihine (knee injury) withdrew from the 12km at the last minute giving the chance to 2004 TOYOTA Great Ethiopian Run winner Abebe Dinkessa to beat double World Cross Country Championships silver medallist Gebregziabher Gebremariam.
While half of the places for the Ethiopian team for St-Etienne/ St-Galmier were decided on Saturday, Bekele and Sihine will have to wait on the EAF’s technical committee decision next week about their participation in the championships.
Women - Long Race: Dibaba made to sweat
The race of the day in Jan Meda was the women’s 8km that saw Tirunesh Dibaba, the World Cross silver medallist in last year’s short race in Brussels, lock in battle with Werknesh Kidane, who was the World bronze medallist in the long race event last year.
World Junior 5000m and cross country champion Meselech Melkamu made her first senior outing over the 8kms in Addis Ababa, while three-time world cross country champion Gete Wami was also making a brave comeback to the cross country season.
At the 2km mark, a large leading pack consisting of Dibaba, Kidane, Melkamu, Merima Denboba, Wami, Teyiba Erkesso (last year’s World short race bronze medallist), and Ethiopian championship 10,000m bronze medallist Bizunesh Bekele held firm as Wami led from the front.
Tired of waiting, Kidane opened a five-metres gap at the front of the pack at the 3.5km mark, and only Melkamu, Wami, Mestawot Tufa, Bekele, and Dibaba were able to follow her, as Erkesso and Denboba started to languish behind.
By the end of 4.5km, the pack had dwindled down to four athletes with Kidane continuing to lead followed by Melkamu and the diminutive Bizunesh Bekele, while Dibaba sat comfortably behind this triumvirate. Kidane was desperately trying to shake off the trio upping the speed, but they held on to the tempo.
With one lap (2km) remaining, however, Bekele took a surprise lead bursting clear from the pack and trying to open up a gap which only Melkamu and Dibaba immediately closed down. At this point, the pace looked too much for Kidane who looked out of the medal positions.
Bekele tried to shake off Melkamu and Dibaba, but to no avail as the duo flew past her with one kilometre left in the race. A tired Kidane was caught by Merima Hashim with Wami also closing the gap.
With 600m left in the race, the comfortable stride of Dibaba versus the peculiar wobbling hands and legs of Melkamu pushed spectators on to the edge of their seats as the duo entered the home straight neck-and-neck. With memories of Melkamu’s famous defeat of Dibaba in a similar sprint finish in the 2004 Ethiopian 5000m Championships still in the mind, everyone kept their eyes open for another surprise.
But it wasn’t to be. Dibaba showed why she is one of the world’s top distance runners, furiously sprinting past a fighting Melkamu with 300m to go, crossing the finish line in 26:46, just under two seconds ahead of Melkamu with Bekele third.
Kidane had been in contention for a place in Ethiopia’s squad for St. Etienne / St.Galmier, France, but slipped from fourth to sixth behind Wami and Hashim, who both automatically qualify. Kidane must now wait until the Ethiopian Athletics Federation (EAF) officially announces its squad.
“I am happy with the race because it was not that difficult,” she said. “I knew that I had to be patient today because I am not experienced in the 8km,” confirmed Dibaba.
Runner-up Melkamu was very satisfied with her first senior 8km race. “It was very difficult, but I am happy that I made it,” she said. “I need to work more on my finishing speed. I expect to have something on my neck in France this year.”
And a tired Kidane blamed her hectic cross country racing schedule in Europe for her lack of finishing power in Addis Ababa. “I run too much in Europe,” she said. “With the help of God, I hope to make the squad.”
Men - Long Race: Dinkessa shocks Gebremariam
The absence of Bekele and Sihine could not dampen the mood of the crowd in the Jan Meda course as the 12km got underway with Gebremariam as the hot favourite. There was nothing to separate the runners until the 4km mark when Gebremariam led pack of five with Eshetu Gezhagne, Abebe Dinkessa, Tessema Abshiro, and Demes Girma in hot pursuit.
After 6km, Gezhagne took the field apart moving to the front and opening a 10m gap which was closed in by only Dinkessa and Gebremariam. But the 25-year old failed to maintain his grip which he relinquished after a kilometre to Dinkessa with Gebremariam following.
Then, just as in the 2004 Great Ethiopian Run Dinkessa found a burst of energy from somewhere to open up a sizable lead of Gebremariam who looked to be struggling. Dinkessa was by now flying, the 20-year-old crossing the finish line in a time of 35:17, a massive seventeen seconds ahead of Gebremariam, with Tessema Abshiro finishing third.
After the race, Dinkessa said that he was happy to recover from a back injury in time to make the trials. “I had back pains and did not do well in Seville and Elgoibar cross country races this year. I came here expecting to win and I did,” he said. “And I expect a medal in France next month.”
Junior Women - Burka impresses
Two years ago in Lausanne, Gelete Burka won a World bronze in the junior women’s race, but did not finish in last year’s qualifying meet here. Today, however, she treated the crowd to a brilliant display of front-running that relegated her opponents to also-runs.
For the first two kilometres, she was happy to sit back and let the others do the leading, but at the 3.5km mark, she made a break with only three athletes going with her.
Burka who impressively won the Brussels Cross Country last December stopped the clock at 20:20 with Hirut Mengistu and Werkitu Ayana finishing eight and twelve seconds adrift respectively.
In her post race comments, Burka said that she had not prepared for this race. “I did not prepare a lot, but thanks to Jesus, I have what I wanted.” The 18-year old also added that she wants to make it a hat-trick of victories for Ethiopia in the women’s junior race in St. Etienne/ St. Galmier. “I am going for gold in France next month,” she said. “I am in great form and will be careful with my tactics.”
Elshadai Negash for the IAAF
22nd Jan Meda Cross Country International Official Results
(Athlete name, club name, finishing time)
6km Junior Women
1. Gelete Burka (Prisons) 20:20
2. Hirut Mengistu (Ethiopian Banks) 20:29
3. Werkitu Ayana (Ethiopian Banks) 20:32
4. Belaynesh Zemedkun (Ethiopian Banks) 20:39
5. Azalech Masresha (Muger Cement) 20:40
6. Alemitu Abera (Muger Cement) 20:41
8km Senior Women
1. Tirunesh Dibaba (Prisons) 26:46
2. Meselech Melkamu (EEPCO) 26:48
3. Bizunesh Bekele (Ethiopian Banks) 26:53
4. Gete Wami (Omedla) 27:08
5. Merima Hashim (Omedla) 27:15
6. Werknesh Kidane (Ethiopian Banks) 27:17
11. Merima Denboba (Ethiopian Banks) 27:59
15. Teyiba Erkesso (Prisons) 28:17
12km Senior Men
1. Abebe Dinkessa (Prisons) 35:17
2. Gebregziabher Gebremariam (Ethiopian Banks) 35:35
3. Eshetu Gezhagne (Muger) 35:37
4. Tessema Abshiro (Ethiopian Banks) 35:55
5. Demese Girma (Fre-Tsega) 36:05
6. Deribie Merga (Negash) 36:15
Results compiled by Elshadai Negash