Displaying both uncharacteristic patience and newly-forged confidence, Mo Farah stormed to a commanding senior men's race victory at the 13th Spar European Cross Country Championships, ending Sergey Lebid’s unprecedented win streak at five.
“I had a good feeling today,” said the 23-year-old Briton, who last year finished a distant 21st. Breaking from a tightly-knit four-man pack midway through the final lap, Farah cruised to the finish of the 9950m course in 27:56, a comfortable seven seconds ahead of surprise runner-up Fernando Silva of Portugal, to become only the second Briton to win an individual men’s title. The last, Jon Brown, won his a decade ago.
“I’m perfectly pleased with how it worked out,” said Farah, whose last podium appearance at a continental cross country championship came in 2001 when he took individual silver. “I definitely worked hard for it. And it’s been a really good year for me. I’ve been injury free and that’s been the main thing.”
With no one forcing the pace, the first two circuits of the five lap race were similar to the previous two editions, with Lebid seemingly biding his time before pouncing to victory over the waning stages. But this time, that scenario would not come to pass. By the time the lead pack began the third lap, several runners, including Farah, Lebid, and Spaniard Juan Carlos de la Ossa, took turns with the lead, but no one was ready to shift the tempo to break the pack. But one lap later, Silva, who was only a distant fifth and 12th in recent cross races in Oeiras and Llodio, produced a brief surge as he approached the start of the final lap that did cause a significant shuffle at the front: while Farah and de la Ossa reacted easily to Silva’s move, Lebid looked to be struggling.
By the time Farah made his break for victory some 25 minutes into the race, the lone battle was for the remaining podium positions. Silva held his ground best to take the silver, while de la Ossa, the runner-up in 2003 and 2004, was third in 28:06, two seconds ahead of fast-finishing Swede Mustafa Mohamed.
Lebid’s fall was not only a surprise, but in the end humbling as well. Struggling as the leaders reached the start of the final 1920m lap, the 31-year-old Ukrainian eventually faded to a distant 12th, 30 seconds behind the winner.
“I was very surprised,” Farah said, when Lebid didn’t produce his now traditional last lap surge. “When we began the last lap, I noticed that he was about 10 metres back, and just thought, ‘whoa.’ But that was when I had to make my move.”
Khalid Zoubaa’s fifth place performance paced the French to their fourth consecutive team title, their 33 points just one better than runner-up Portugal. Spain, second last year, were a distant third (44 points), with Great Britain (82) fourth and the host Italians (93) fifth.
Despite the 24 hour rainfall that soaked this small town of 6000 located some 20 kilometres northeast of Milan, conditions were in the end quite favourable, with the morning’s sunny skies leaving yesterday’s muddy course quite manageable.
Under-23 Race: Bene’s streak continues
With a slew of medallists from recent years competing, the inaugural men’s Under 23 competition proved to be the most competitive of the afternoon’s six races. And much as he did last year when taking his second consecutive junior title, Hungary’s Barnabas Bene maintained his momentum again.
“It was not as difficult as last year,” said Bene, soon after his 23:14 victory over the 8030m course. “I was pushed hard but remained confident they wouldn’t catch me.”
“They” were perennial threats Yevgeniy and Anatoliy Rybakov, the Russian twins whose 1-2 finish from 2002 and 2003 was halted by Bene two years ago in Heringsdorf, Germany, and Dusko Markesevic, the 20-year-old Serbian who was third in the junior race last year.
While Yevgeniy Rybakov did much of the front-running with Bene, he struggled over the final 150 metres before fading to fourth, first passed by Markesevic, and then by Italian Daniele Meucci.
The Russian twins nonetheless lead Russia to a commanding win for the team title with 28 points, with Italy (78) second and Poland (94) third.
Junior Race: For Lalli, first-ever gold for Italy
Andrea Lalli delivered what the enthusiastic crowd at the Angelo Alberti Sports Centre came to see: a commanding near gun-to-tape victory and the first-ever gold medal for Italy at a European Cross Country Championship.
Entering the stadium with a decisive lead, the 19-year-old from Florence waved to the appreciative crowd, blew kisses and crossed himself repeatedly before reaching the line in 16:53, nearly 50 metres clear of Siarhei Chebiarak of Belarus, who covered the 5975m course in 17:03.
“I just felt very well during the race today,” said Lalli, who was the highest finishing European in the junior race at last spring’s World Cross Country Championships. “I had no fear because I had nothing to lose, so I tried to take the initiative and run the entire race in the lead. And the tactic paid off.”
Lalli’s was an inspiring run, first shaking off the challenge by Romanian Ciprian Suhanea over the first lap before running away from Chabiarek in the second. Lalli, a distant 12th a year ago, is a two-time Italian national cross country champion, and was fifth over 5000m at the 2005 European Junior Championships.
Ciprian, 18, hung on for third, finishing three seconds behind Chebiarak, with Russia’s Aleksey Popov, the national junior indoor 1500 and 3000 champion, fourth in 17:12. Reaching the line in fifth was Italy’s Simone Garibaldi, who helped secure the team victory for Italy, who collected 68 points. Spain edged France for second – 74 points each – while Turkey, with 83 points, was fourth.
Bob Ramsak for the IAAF
Click here for FULL RESULTS
On the path to Mombasa 2007
Follow the entire 2006/2007 cross country season
on the IAAF Website.
News, features, results and photographs from of all the principal competitions right up to the season's climax on 24 March 2007, at the 35th IAAF World Cross Country Championships, Mombasa, Kenya.