Ethiopia’s Humegaw Mesfin provided a major upset today taking a shock win at the ‘56th Cross Internacional Zornotza’. In a thrilling photo-finish sprint on a snowy but not unduly cold day (temperature 8ºC), the 20-year-old defeated the reigning World Cross Country champion Gebre-egziabher Gebremariam, also of Ethiopia.
The race had been billed as an interesting encounter between the current World and European cross country title-holders in the guise of Gebremariam and Spain’s Alemayehu Bezabeh but the latter had to settle for third on this occasion behind his former countrymen.
On the women’s side Ann Mwangi of Kenya snatched a comfortable 11-second win ahead of Adriënne Herzog of The Netherlands, who is the current European Cross Country bronze medallist.
The men’s 10.7km witnessed a brisk start thanks to the early pace set by Sergio Sánchez. The Spaniard had been the overwhelming victor in Venta de Baños on 20 December ahead of Kenya’s Joseph Ebuya, who took a brilliant win yesterday (9) at the IAAF permit race in Edinburgh.
Sánchez headed a leading pack also including Bezabeh, Gebremariam and Mesfin, but shortly after the halfway point Sánchez – who is aiming at a top performance over 3000m at the IAAF World Indoor Championships in Doha next March – began to falter. It was thus Bezabeh who took charge of the race and only Gebremariam and Mesfin, a creditable 10th at last Worlds in Amman, could live with his pace.
But Bezabeh’s lead was to be short-lived as he lost ground on the Ethiopians some 27 minutes into the race and so the event became a fascinating neck-and-neck battle between Gebremariam and Mesfin, with the latter pushing hard, trying desperately to get rid of his illustrious compatriot.
The Basque country’s athletics fans have a well-earned reputation as one of the most knowledgeable crowds in Spain and so all the talk was about Mesfin’s slim chances of coming home successfully against Gebremariam given the World champion’s devastating sprint finish. However, to everyone’s surprise Mesfin held off the late burst of speed injected by Gebremariam with 300m to go, and prevailed.
Both athletes were given the same time (35:24), a massive 26-second margin on third placed Bezabeh who completed a classy podium 19secs clear of his fellow Spaniard Ayad Lamdassem, himself getting the better of a top-ten athlete from Amman like Kenya’s Mike Kiptoo.
“Obviously, I’m more than happy having defeated my countryman and World champion Gebremariam, I’m extremely proud for that”, firstly declared Mesfin, who is the holder of a 27:27.57 10,000m performance on the track. He added, “I arrived here full of confidence as I managed to win a cross country last week in Ethiopia where there weren’t top specialists but I felt very strong.”
Mesfin, who will turn 21-years-old on 31 January, had already performed three times in the current Spanish XC season in November, finishing runner-up in Quintanar, seventh in Llodio and fourth at the IAAF permit in Soria.
As for Gebremariam, the 25-year-old suffered his first loss in the current cross country season. Until today he had a perfect card of four wins in a row in Atapuerca, the IAAF permits in Oeiras and Soria, plus Alcobendas.
Today’s runner-up said: “I hoped to win but Mesfin just proved too strong for me today. Anyway, I’m not accustomed to running over a snowy surface.”
Asked about his non-presence in Edinburgh -where he had been announced – Gebremariam clarified: “I simply never reached an agreement with Edinburgh’s organisers and preferred to compete here as I consider Spain my second country. I’m sorry for the misunderstanding, anyway.”
The 6.7km women's contest promised to be a fierce Africa-Europe battle thanks to the presence of two world-class Kenyans Ann Mwangi and Grace Momanyi plus two medallists from last month’s Europeans in Dublin Spain’s Rosa Morató (silver) and Adriënne Herzog of The Netherlands (bronze).
With barely five minutes on the clock that quartet already led the race with the Kenyans making most of the pacing duties. It was Morató who first dropped from the leading pack at the 4.5k point and shortly afterwards Momanyi – a 4th finisher at last summer’s Berlin Worlds over 10,000m - also lost touch with the leading tandem of Mwangi and Herzog.
The key movement came with some 900m left when the 21-year-old Mwangi broke away very easily from Herzog to romp home unopposed in 24:22 with a 11-second advantage on the Dutch woman who had a comfortable 26-second margin over Momanyi, while further adrift Morató only could repeat her fourth spot from last year.
A joyful winner declared: “I’m very impressed as it’s the first time I have run on the snow, it is great! I’m of course happy for my win but I’ll always remember today for the fabulous experience of competing on a snowy circuit.”
Emeterio Valiente for the IAAF
1. Humegaw Mesfin (Eth) 35:24
2. Gebre-egziahber Gebremariam (Eth) 35:24
3. Alemayehu Bezabeh (Esp) 35:50
4. Ayad Lamdassem (Esp) 36:09
5. Mark Kiptoo (Ken) 36:15
6. Abdelhadi El Mouaziz (Mor) 36:30
7. Sergio Sánchez (Esp) 36:36
8. Eliseo Martín (Esp) 36:59
9. Iván Fernández (Esp) 37:01
10. Abraha Adhanom (Eri) 37:02
1. Ann Mwangi (Ken) 24:22
2. Adriënne Herzog (Ned) 24:33
3. Grace Momanyi (Ken) 24:49
4. Rosa Morató (Esp) 25:17
5. Btissam Lakhouad (Mor) 25:35
6. Bouchra Chaabi (Mor) 25:46
7. Aicha Bani (Mor) 25:58
8. Jacqueline Martín (Esp) 26:18
9. Iris Fuentes-Pila (Esp) 26:22
10. Zulema Fuentes-Pila (Esp) 26:22