US runners Garrett Heath and Chris Derrick repeated their success of 12 months ago when they ran out as winners again at the Great Edinburgh XCountry, an IAAF Cross Country Permit meeting, on Saturday (10).
Heath won over 4km in the Scottish capital’s famous Holyrood Park, the venue for the 2008 IAAF World Cross Country Championships, while Derrick successfully defended his title over 8km.
However, there was plenty for the home crowd to cheer during the women’s 6km race as Great Britain’s Emelia Gorecka put behind her a disappointing outing at the European Cross Country Championships last month to get a surprise win.
Heath was the first to take the plaudits.
Kenya’s 2008 Olympic Games gold medallist and two-time world 1500m champion Asbel Kiprop led during the early stages of the race, picking his way through some of the deeper mud passages, but the pace was pedestrian enough for the likes of Heath, fellow US runner Dathan Ritzenhein and Great Britain’s Tom Lancashire to follow him comfortably.
By halfway, Kenya’s world cross-country champion Japhet Korir and his compatriot Thomas Longosiwa had got back in touch with the leaders and fellow Kenyans Augustine Choge and Jairus Birech were closing on the leaders as well.
However, the picture changed once Heath went to the front at the start of the second 2km lap with only Korir for company as the others started to drop back.
Much to many people’s surprise, it was the US athlete who proved the stronger.
With one kilometre to go, Heath had an advantage of about 20 metres and he gradually pulled further away from his Kenyan rival to cross the line in 12:11.
“After the first lap no one was pushing the pace. I thought they were either waiting or tired, so I said to myself I will try and go for it,” said the 29 year-old Heath, generally known as a 1500m specialist.
Korir finished eight seconds adrift on the muddy course and third went to Ritzenhein in 12:27. Kiprop, the 2012 winner in this race, had to settle for fourth place on this occasion while Lancashire was the first Briton across the line in fifth.
Derrick then added to a successful day for the men from across the Atlantic.
He controlled proceedings from the front early on and, regularly joined by Great Britain’s Charlie Hulson at the front, they led the big, compact field at halfway with Spain’s 2013 European cross-country champion Alemayehu Bezabeh close on their heels.
However, the 24 year-old defending champion Derrick continued to push the pace on the third lap.
As Bezabeh started to struggle, US runners dominated the leading group with Jacob Riley, Craig Forys and Reed Connor following Derrick. Britain’s Johnny Hay was the only non-US runner who could stay with them during the third circuit.
As the runners heard the bell, Derrick was 15 metres ahead of Riley with the others another 15 metres back and the leading pair continued to duel over the final lap although the former was always in command.
“It was a really hard race on a tough course,” said Derrick, who had to fend off a late surge by Riley, a former Stanford University team-mate of the winner.
“Fortunately the final part was downhill,” he added, after crossing the line in 25:31, just two seconds ahead of Riley.
“I know Jacob well, he is a tough competitor,” said Derrick, who is now focused on making the US team that will contest the 2015 IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Guiyang, China, on 28 March.
Derrick finished an excellent 10th at the last edition of the World Cross Country Championships two years ago, and was instrumental in the USA taking an unexpected set of silver medals in the senior men's team competition.
Hay was third in 25:36 with Connor and Hulson following him home in fourth and fifth in 25:38 and 25:39.
Gorecka runs "best race of your life"
However, the 20-year-old Gorecka metaphorically brought the house down in the final race of the day when she won in 21:36 to beat Ireland’s two-time European cross-country champion Fionnuala Britton by seven seconds.
Spain’s Trihas Gebre, like Britton part of a European team, was a further 17 seconds behind.
The trio were together after 4km, just after the start of the last lap, but Gorecka timed her surge to perfection.
“I was waiting with my final surge. Only when my coach shouted that I should go with one kilometre left that I pushed the pace,” said Gorecka, who immediately built a lead of about 10 metres before emerging as a comfortable winner.
“Especially after coming away from Bulgaria, there was no better way to come back,” added Gorecka, after what the former European cross-country junior champion described as one of the best runs of her life.
“I was in really good shape in Bulgaria but things weren’t quite right with me. The best way to put things right is go back and run the best race of your life, which is pretty much what just happened. It's my first major senior win. It feels amazing. I tried to run smart and clever and fight with all my heart.”
Great Britain's European cross-country champion Gemma Steel sadly had a race to forget after her recent triumphs, which also included a win in Madrid's famous San Silvestre Vallecana 10km road race on New Year's Eve.
Steel lost contact with the leaders just after halfway and finally finished in 11th place with 22:25.
The men's 8km and women's 6km races, as well as two junior races, counted towards what has now become an annual team competition.
The USA dominated this contest with a tally of 121 points. Europe and Great Britain followed in second and third with 189 and 223 points respectively.
The junior men’s 6km race was won by Italy’s European cross-country junior champion Yemaneberhan Crippa in 19:57. He finished well ahead of the two US runners, Cerake Geberkidane and Olin Hacker, who were second and third in 20:07 and 20:08 respectively.
The USA's Makena Morley also had a comfortable advantage in the junior women’s 4km. She clocked 14:40 to beat her compatriot Anna Rohrer by seven seconds, with Denmark's Anna-Emilie Moller, representing Europe, in third in 15:02.
Jörg Wenig for the IAAF