Ethiopia’s Kenenisa Bekele produced another awesome display in the ‘21st Cross Internacional de Itálica’ - IAAF Permit cross country meeting - held during a sunny afternoon today in Seville, defeating the cream of the world’s distance runners including both the reigning World and European 10,000m champions.
The young Ethiopian, the reigning double World Cross Country champion has now successfully completed his five-race European cross country tour achieving an impressive winning average margin of 27 seconds. Bekele remains undefeated in cross country races since 24 March 2001, when still a junior, he came second to Kenya’s Enock Koech in the short race at the World Championships in Ostend, Belgium.
The race opened cautiously with Bekele setting the early pace. Although the start was not particularly fast the rest of the field was content to run at his shoulder and no-one dared pass the Ethiopian. It was during the third kilometre that Bekele made a decisive break which was covered only by five men, with Morocco’s Jaouad Gharib, Eritrea’s Tadesse Zersenay, Spain’s Alberto García plus Kenya’s Charles Kamathi and Abraham Chebii running by necessity in single file.
Surprisingly Kenya’s Albert Chepkurui and Ethiopia’s Dagne Alemu were running far behind the lead. After the race it became known that both had competed slightly injured (knee injury -Chepkurui; hamstring - Alemu).
Meanwhile, Bekele continued his stunning display and nobody could live with his pace. At halfway he had already built an 8-second gap on the chasing group. By then Chebii had been dropped as Spain’s Alberto García took over, with Kamathi, Zersenay and Gharib in close attendance.
Bekele’s lead reached its widest margin of 20 seconds just prior to the eighth kilometre mark with the chasing trio taking turns. Once it was clear that, barring disaster, that the Ethiopian would be the overwhelming winner Bekele slowed down the pace, just as he did one week ago in Elgóibar, clocking 6:04, 6:11 and 6:21 for the last three 2000m loops.
Over the last lap Zersenay burst away with García in hot pursuit in the battle for the second place. Finally, Bekele won by 15 seconds from the Madrid-based Zersenay who took up athletics...only 18 months ago!
García, who had won the ‘Spanish male athlete of the year’ vote the day before, arrived in Seville at 1.00 in the morning. Despite that he performed superbly to come third just five seconds adrift of the Eritrean but well ahead of Gharib. Last year’s winner Chebii overtook a fading Kamathi over the last 500m as Spain’s Fabián Roncero finished strongly to take seventh place two seconds adrift of the reigning World 10,000m champion. José Manuel Martínez was never a factor in the race and had to settle for a distant 12th .
“I am pleased with this success running against nearly all the best performers in the world. I will compete next at the Ethiopian trials at the end of February as my next step to retain my World title in Lausanne” declared a confident Bekele, who added “I will probably come back to Europe to take part in the ‘Cinque Mulini’ (Italy) race at the beginning of March”.
“I don’t know yet what event I will be contesting at the World outdoors in Paris” concluded a tireless Bekele.
In the women’s race, Ethiopia’s Merima Denboba grabbed a thrilling sprint victory ahead of Kenya’s World 4 Km champion Edith Masai, with Turkey’s (Ethiopian-borned) Elvan Abeylegesse a close third.
With eight minutes on the clock the race became an African private party, with the leading group comprising Kenya’s Masai and Ayabei Jepkorir, Turkey’s (Ethiopian-born) Elvan Abeylegesse and not less than five Ethiopians: Denboba, Kidane, Kuma, Erkesso and Tuffa.
From the gun it had been Jepkorir the pace setter and there were no remarkable changes until the last lap when Kidane moved to the top of the group to share the lead with Jepkorir, and as a consequence Kuma and Erkesso soon lost touch.
However, the crucial moment came with just 500m remaining when Abeylegesse pushing hard was followed closely by only Masai and Denboba. The former (1999) World silver medallist in the long race Denboba, took over 300m for home and there was no catching her. Masai could not match her fine 2003 wins in Newcastle and Elgóibar and had to settle for second, while Abeylegesse came a close third.
At the finish line only two seconds covered the first four. There were five Ethiopians among the top ten and it looks very much like they are well on their way to retaining their long race World team title in Lausanne.
A delighted Denboba said: “It was my fifth participation here, but that was not an advantage. I had no problems with the mud. I will run next either in the San Sebastián or Haro races on Sunday 26th. I like running in Spain. I will try to double (long and short races) at the trials in Ethiopia, so I can also double again at the worlds”, confirmed Denboba.
Emeterio Valiente for the IAAF
Men (10,800m course)
1 Kenenisa Bekele (ETH) 31:31
2 Tadesse Zersenay (ERI) 31:46
3 Alberto García (ESP) 31:51
4 Jaouad Gharib (MAR) 32:00
5 Abraham Chebii (KEN) 32:06
6 Charles Kamathi (KEN) 32:09
7 Fabián Roncero (ESP) 32:11
8 Juan Carlos de la Ossa (ESP) 32:14
9 Enrique Molina (ESP) 32:16
10 Mohamed Said El Wardi (MAR) 32:33
Women (6,600m course)
1 Merima Denboba (ETH) 21:41
2 Edith Masai (KEN) 21:42
3 Elvan Abeylegesse (TUR) 21:43
4 Werknesh Kidane (ETH) 21:43
5 Ayabei Jepkorir (KEN) 21:55
6 Mestewat Tufa (ETH) 21:58
7 Eyerusalem Kuma (ETH) 22:01
8 Teyeba Erkesso (ETH) 22:10
9 Analia Rosa (POR) 22:14
10 Helena Sampaio (POR) 22:17