Kenya’s Emmanuel Bett and Ethiopia’s Sofia Assefa took the victories at the 32nd Cross Internacional de la Constitución in the Madrid suburb of Alcobendas on Sunday (24).
Bett, the fastest runner over 10,000m on the track in 2012, got the better of Eritrea’s 2013 IAAF World Cross Country Championships bronze medallist Teklemariam Medhin after a thrilling sprint finish, a fitting climax to an enthralling men’s 9.5km race.
The race, on a bright but quite cold day when temperatures struggled to get into double figures, started quite cautiously with the Spanish pair of former European track champions Arturo Casado and Antonio Jimenez setting the pace during the first 1.9km lap.
Closest to them was Kenya’s reigning World cross-country champion Japhet Korir while his compatriot Bett, the Eritrean pair of Medhin and Goitom Kifle plus Uganda’s Timothy Toroitich were close behind.
It was Kifle, still only 20 and a creditable seventh at the World Cross Country Championships in Bydgoszcz last March, who injected a much brisker pace halfway around the following 2.5km circuit, which could only followed by Bett, Medhin and Toroitich.
Surprisingly, Korir was already six seconds behind by the halfway point and it soon became soon clear that he wouldn’t make the podium again, just like at the IAAF Cross Country Permit race on Spanish soil in Atapuerca last Sunday, when he had to settle for sixth.
After respective 2.5km laps of 7:12 and 7:16, the leading quartet reached the final loop with Bett and Kifle at the front, while Toroitich and Medhin reamined in close attendance.
Bett’s relentless rhythm paid dividends with about 1.5km to go as first Kifle and then Toroitich began to falter and the race turned into a straight fight between Bett and Medhin.
Bett comes up trumps at the end
Taking advantage of the downhill 200m stretch to the finish, and utilising his track pedigree, Bett managed to overtake Medhin again to prevent the Eritrean from defending the title he won 12 months ago.
At the tape, barely one second separated Bett and Medhin while Toroitich, fifth in Bydgozcz, completed a classy podium.
“I prefer track events rather than cross-country races because I like running at a fast pace and that’s much more difficult at cross country where there are lots of ups and downs,” said Bett.
“Anyway, I’m delighted with my tally of a runner-up place last Sunday (in Atapuerca) and today’s win on my short European cross country tour. I now return to Kenya where I’ll take a competition break before coming back to Europe early next year."
On his 2014 targets, Bett commented: “It’s true that there won’t be Worlds nor an Olympics at stake but I would like to become the African cross-country champion in Uganda."
Unlike at the sharp end of the men’s race, the 26-year-old Sofia Assefa had no opposition from the rest of the field in the women's race and romped to win by more than a minute ahead of Morocco’s Malika Asahssah.
Ethiopia’s Assefa ran solo from the 1km mark. The 2013 IAAF World Championships and London 2012 Olympic Games 3000m Steeplechase bronze medallist was out on her own after the first kilometre in the 7.6km race and never headed.
Emeterio Valiente for the IAAF
1 Emmanuel Bett (KEN) 28:00
2 Teklemariam Medhin (ERI) 28:01
3 Timothy Toroitich (UGA) 28:11
4 Goitom Kifle (ERI) 28:19
5 Japhet Korir (KEN) 28:41
6 Antonio Jiménez (ESP) 29:20
7 Roberto Alaiz (ESP) 29:28
8 Jesús Núñez (ESP) 29:48
9 Víctor Corrales (ESP) 29:51
10 David Solís (ESP) 29:54
1 Sofia Assefa (ETH) 25:33
2 Malika Asahssah (MAR) 26:41
3 Diana Martín (ESP) 26:46
4 Elena Espeso (ESP) 26:50
5 Iris Fentes-Pila (ESP) 26:51
6 Saida El Medhi (MAR) 26:53
7 Dolores Checa (ESP) 27:00
8 Teresa Urbina (ESP) 27:16
9 Azucena Díaz (ESP) 27:21
10 Rehima Rewar (ETH) 27:21