Kenya's 2001 World 10,000 metres champion Charles Kamathi grabbed a thrilling sprint victory in the 'Cross Internacional de Llodio' today. Coming just eight days after another win in Spain last weekend in Soria, it provided further evidence that the Nairobi Policeman is fast approaching his best form after a lack lustre summer season on the track.
Armed with a budget of 96,000 USD, race director Javier Aparicio was able to bring together the cream of international Cross Country running, with an impressive men’s field including three of the first six athletes from the World Championships in Dublin last spring: Tanzania’s John Yuda, runner-up in the long race, and Kenya’s Charles Kamathi and Albert Chepkurui, 5th and 6th respectively on that occasion.
The bad news came from European 3000m steeplechase champion Spain’s Antonio Jiménez, who as reported on this site on Friday, had to pull out of the race due to a sudden illness. Llodio was the second IAAF cross country permit meeting of the season.
On paper, there was a huge quality gap between the Africans and the remaining European contingent, which was headed by Portugal’s Eduardo Henriques and four time European Cross Country champion Paulo Guerra, and so it proved to be in reality too. The Kenyan armada set a brisk early pace and when the leaders went through the first loop (it was a 4 loop race) just nine athletes remained, and 34-year-old Henriques was the only European among them.
The Portuguese runner had the audacity to take the head for a while but it was a temporary mirage, as he dropped from the lead shortly afterwards. Meanwhile the favourites, Yuda and Kamathi pushed the pace alongside Kenya’s Albert Chepkurui and Patrick Ivitu. They covered the second lap 14 seconds faster than the previous one. There were no remarkable changes in the third loop, but the pace was increasingly faster and faster.
Entering the last 2190m lap, 24-year-old Ivuti tried to storm away from Yuda, Kamathi and Chepkurui, and initially built a 10m lead over the chasing group, but to no avail. The crowd was very soon entertained by a fascinating four way fight for victory, as Ivuti was reeled in.
Reigning World 10,000 champion Kamathi injected the decisive kick and finished first clocking 26:57, preventing Yuda (26:58) a close second, from repeating last year’s win. Third over the finish line came Chepkurui, who out-sprinted a fading Ivuti.
Henriques confirmed his status as the strongest European and finished in fifth, 28 seconds behind the winner Kamathi who confirmed, “I am having a good start this season after my victory in Soria last Sunday and today’s. It has been a tough race with lots of hills throughout the circuit.”
Asked about Ethiopia’s Haile Gebrselassie’s decision to contest the 10,000m event at next year’s Worlds in Paris, the Kenyan confirmed, “that is good for me, I like running against the best in the world.” Confident words from the man who broke Gebrselassie’s four win streak over 10,000m at the 2001 World Championships in Edmonton.
On a sunny day (18ºC), the women also produced a gutsy and determined race, especially Ethiopia’s Ayelech Worku, who made most of the early running. Worku, who has competed regularly in Llodio on even numbered years (she was runner up in 1996, 1998 and 2000), was the early pace setter but the group of hot favourites, including Kenyan Leah Malot and Selina Kosgei the Commonwealth 10,000 champion, remained bunched together through the first lap.
At halfway only these three women still had chances of winning, as the rest of the field, all Spanish athletes, were running way back. The splits (7:35 and 7:11) over the first two laps showed a blistering pace but despite Worku’s efforts, the Kenyan pair still stayed at her shoulder.
With around 500m to go Malot stepped up the pace dramatically, Kosgei joined her but Worku had no answer and had to settle for third. In the closing stages, Kosgei dipped past Malot to win in 19:33, the final sprint being so close that Malot was given the same time. Worku finished a distant third with a 19:43 clocking. Kosgei who is based in Eldoret declared: “Winning has been such a surprise for me. I was confident of my speed as I am a former middle distance runner. My next race will be in France, possibly.”
Emeterio Valiente for the IAAF
1. Charles Kamathi (Ken) 26:57
2. John Yuda (Tan) 26:58
3. Albert Chepkurui (Ken) 26:59
4. Patrick Ivuti (Ken) 26:59
5. Eduardo Henriques (Por) 27:25
6. Paul Koech (Ken) 27:31
7. Dagne Alemu (Eth) 27:39
8. Hosea Kogo (Ken) 27:51
9. Abraham Chebii (Ken) 27:55
10. Robert Stefko (Svk) 27:57
1. Selina Kosgei (Ken) 19:33
2. Leah Malot (Ken) 19:33
3. Ayelech Worku (Eth) 19:43
4. Amaia Piedra (Spa) 19:58
5. Alessandra Aguilar (Spa) 20:00