Kenya’s 2010 World Cross Country champion Joseph Ebuya grabbed an emphatic win at the ‘58th Cross Internacional Zornotza’ on Sunday (8).
Running in cloudy but pleasant (14 C) conditions, the 24-year-old Ebuya managed a clear 10-second win over his fellow Kenyan Vincent Chepkok, the reigning World XC bronze medallist, while relatively unheralded Nazaret Weldu of Eritrea snatched a surprise win in the women’s section ahead of the pre-race favourite Priscah Jepleting of Kenya.
Ebuya retains title in style – Men’s race
With last year’s precedent when the then World champion took a massive win, Ebuya’s only target seemed clear yesterday when the 10.7Km race got underway and the Kenyan ace didn’t let anyone down.
From the gun Ebuya took command of the pace followed by a strong African armada which included Eritrea’s 2010 World XC silver medallist Teklemariam Medhin, Kenya’s Hosea Macharinyang and Lucas Rotich, and the Ethiopian trio of Humegaw Mesfin, Yigrem Demelash and Mosinet Geremew.
Ebuya’s frantic pace (14:43 for the 5000m section) proved to be lethal for the others except for Medhin in what would seem a rematch from the 2010 World XC Championships in Bydgoszcz when Ebuya and Medhin took gold and silver respectively. An impressive 2:53 split for the fifth kilometre left Ebuya and Medhin at the top while Rotich, Chepkok and Mesfin, the 2010 victor in Amorebieta, lost ground gradually.
Ebuya, who was eager to avenge his 4 December defeat in Alcobendas, was running at a brisk sub-3:00/km pace over the ondulating and gorgeous circuit which was the venue of the 1993 World Cross Country championships.
The decisive movement came with the clocking reading 16 minutes; it was then that Ebuya’s relentless pace managed to leave the tall Eritrean behind. From then on – still 5200 metres left – Ebuya kept on his magnificent display of strength while an exhausted Medhin began to falter to such an extent that he was overtaken successively by Chepkok, Rotich and Mesfin before the bell to fall to the fifth spot finally.
Over the closing lap Chepkok seemed to threaten Ebuya’s lead for a while but the latter prevailed at the tape by 10 seconds while Mesfin took the minor place on the podium four seconds clear of Rotich. The only non-African at the top-ten was Spain’s Daniel Mateo (9th) who is coached by the double (1997 & 1999) World Marathon champion Abel Antón.
Said the victor: “I knew Medhin was my toughest rival today and decided to push hard from the start. I’m very proud as my average pace has been under 3:00 which is not an easy task in cross country races. Amorebieta is one of my favourites races and I have prepared very carefully for this competition. Today’s is my second victory in a row and that makes me feel good.”
Weldu denies Jepleting’s hat trick
The women’s 6.7Km contest kicked off with a hot favourite in the guise of Kenya’s Priscah Jepleting, a creditable fifth at the World Championships last March and fourth placed at the Daegu Worlds over 10,000m. More recently the 31-year-old has been successful at the Alcobendas (4 Dec) and Venta de Baños (18 Dec) races.
The contest opened quite conservatively with a seven-woman pack led by Jepleting and Weldu, an unnoticed 45th in Punta Umbría; the main group also comprised of Portugal’s Ana Dias, Britain’s reigning European U-23 5000m bronze medallist Stevie Stockton and the Spanish trio of Alba García, Lidia Rodríguez and Elena Espeso.
For much of the race the two Africans seemed to run effortlessly while the rest of the leading group had to fight hard not to be dropped. Jepleting and Weldu took turns at the head, they opened a slight gap over the others several times but the Europeans managed to contact them again and again.
The first serious movement came at the bell (2000 metres left) when the 22-year-old Weldu increased her pace dramatically to build a 10m-gap on Jepleting but the latter didn’t surrender and caught the Eritrean shortly afterwards. Weldu’s change of speed was more than enough to leave the others well behind in a matter of few metres.
The closing stages of the race promised to be a fierce battle between the Africans and it really was. The last kilometre witnessed a brave Weldu in the front with Jepleting just behind her. The Eritrean unleashed a powerful kick with some 400 metres to go to romp home unopposed while Jepleting - reportedly she had fever the night before – had to settle for runner-up honours.
The fight for the minor place on the podium went for the 25-year-old Rodríguez five seconds clear of Stockton. A joyful Weldu said: “Honestly, I felt fine today but I didn’t expect to beat a top athlete like Jepleting.”
Emeterio Valiente for the IAAF
Men (10.7Km) -
1. Joseph Ebuya (Ken) 31:33
2. Vincent Chepkok (Ken) 31:43
3. Humegaw Mesfin (Eth) 32:03
4. Lucas Rotich (Ken) 32:07
5. Teklemariam Medhin (Eri) 32:50
6. Hosea Macharinyang (Ken) 32:54
7. Mosinet Geremew (Eth) 33:11
8. Yigrem Demelash (Eth) 33:11
9. Daniel Mateo (Esp) 33:43
10. Amanuel Mesel (Eri) 33:45
Women (6.7Km) -
1. Nazareth Weldu (Eri) 23:45
2. Priscah Jepleting (Ken) 23:53
3. Lidia Rodríguez (Esp) 23:56
4. Stevie Stockton (Gbr) 24:01
5. Elena Espeso (Esp) 24:02
6. Ana Dias (Por) 24:11
7. Alba García (Esp) 24:18
8. Jacqueline Martín (Esp) 24:30
9. Rehima Jewar (Eth) 24:41
10. Marisa Casanueva (Esp) 24:45