Phil Minshull in Spain for the IAAF
7 January 2001 - The fact that there were African winners of the Amorebieta IAAF cross country permit meeting on Sunday was no surprise; the fact that the victors were the Kenyan pair of Paul Kosgei and Naomi Mugo certainly was.
Neither was among the pundits pre-race favourites but they upset the form book and also gave an early indication that they could be in contention when the medals are handed out in Dublin, at the 29th IAAF World Cross Country Championships, in 11 weeks time.
Kosgei, bronze medallist in the world cross country 4km race in Vilamoura last March, has gradually extended his range since setting a world junior 3000m steeplechase record four years ago.
He demonstrated his stamina as well as his speed in the Basque country, just outside the provincial capital of Bilbao, by pulling away from his compatriot, and last winters sensation, Charles Kimathi with 500 metres to go.
Kosgei stopped the clock in 31:48 after 10.7km of soft turf and energy-sapping mud to come home four seconds clear of Kimathi. He become the fifth different Kenyan man in the last six years to triumph at the prestigious Cross Internacional Zornotza, which has been contested for 41 years.
The mens race turned into a Kenyan dominated affair quickly after the gun, with Kenyans eventually filling the first six places home. They pushed the pace as a pack all the way through to the last 2km circuit, when Kimathi surged.
However, Kosgei and a resurgent Thomas Nyariki, back to near his best form after a year ruined by a broken foot, tracked the Nairobi policeman closely.
Kimathi kicked for a second time with barely a kilometre to go and shook off Nyariki but the Italy-based Kosgei wouldnt be dislodged and he made his decisive move as he rounded the penultimate turn on the course that played host to the 1993 IAAF World Cross Country Championships.
"After a year when I have had problems with my hamstring it is good to get back and run this well," said Kimathi.
"I felt good before the race and I feel good now because I have really tested myself on a very tough course. It was very muddy, and not the type of course I really like, but I am pleased with my performance. However, I have to give all the credit to Paul. He had his tactics right, and then to push past me like that showed how good he is."
The womens race over 6.7km was as fiercely contested as the mens.
Kenyas Sally Barsosio, the world junior cross country bronze medallist on the same course eight years ago, was to the fore at the halfway point but her 20m lead was not sufficient to bring her victory.
After Barsosio had been reeled in by a pack of five runners, it was the turn of Ethiopias Fatuma Roba to move to the front.
However the 1996 Olympic marathon champion found the race too swift and too short, eventually drifting back to sixth, and in the final kilometre it was Mugo who prevailed over three other Ethiopians, Ejagayou Diababa, Eyerusalem Kuma and former world junior cross country champion Yemenashu Taye.
Mugo won in 22:44, three seconds ahead of the new Ethiopian find Diababa, with Kuma third in 22:50.
Mugo hopes that, after a couple of lean years on the cross country circuit, she will be back among the individual medals again in Dublin, five years after she took a bronze medal at the 1996 IAAF World Cross Country Championships in South Africa.
"Im delighted, this is my first victory this winter and it has certainly given me a big confidence boost. By the world cross country championships I hope to be in even better shape and be able to do well there," said Mugo, who celebrated her 24th birthday on Tuesday.
1. Paul Kosgei (Kenya) 31:48
2. Charles Kimathi (Kenya) 31:52
3. Salim Kipsang (Kenya) 32:15
4. Thomas Nyariki (Kenya) 32:40
5. Daniel Gachara (Kenya) 32:48
6. Sammy Kipketer (Kenya) 32:54
7. Alberto Juzdado (Spain) 33:00
8. John Nada Saya (Tanzania) 33:15
9. Karl Keska (Britain) 33:20
10. Richard Limo (Kenya) 33.27
1. Naomi Mugo (Kenya) 22:45
2. Ejagayou Diababa (Ethiopia) 22:48
3. Eyerusalem Kuma (Ethiopia) 22:50
4. Yemenashu Taye (Ethiopia) 22.53
5. Sally Barsosio (Kenya) 23.05
6. Fatuma Roba (Ethiopia) 23:11
7. Yamna Belkacem (France) 23:23
8. Hareg Sidelil (Ethiopia) 23:34
9. Irene Lemike (Kenya) 23:44
10. Kathy Butler (England) 23.57