Irene Cheptai on her way to winning the women's race at the Cross Internacional Juan Muguerza in Elgoibar (Fundación ANOC) © Copyright
Report Elgoibar, Spain

Ayalew and Cheptai take the spoils in Elgoibar

Bahrain’s Aweke Ayalew and Kenya’s Irene Cheptai produced convincing victories at the 73rd Cross Internacional Juan Muguerza, the fifth of this winter’s IAAF Cross Country Permit meetings, in the Spanish town of Elgoibar on Sunday (24).

It was Ayalew’s second win in a row in the IAAF Cross Country Permit series, as the 22-year-old had won in Antrim last Sunday.

Held on a sunny and still early afternoon with the thermometer reading 20C, the men’s 10.8km race kicked off at a moderate pace. The opening 400m lap on the track was covered in 1:05 with Tola leading a sextet comprising the Ugandan duo of Timothy Toroitich and Moses Kibet, Ayalew and fellow Bahraini Hassan Elabbasi, plus Spain’s Toni Abadia.

After a 2km lap of 6:13, the leaders slowed to 6:27 for the following circuit, allowing the local pair of Ayad Lamdassem and Ilias Fifa to approach the leading pack. But another loop of 6:15 made Kibet and then Abadia lose ground.

Ayalew and Tola took turns to lead and they reached the bell with just Elabbassi and Toroitich for company.

Ayalew injected a frantic pace during the closing lap which only Tola was able to follow, leaving Elabbassi and Toroitich to fight for the third spot on the podium. Ayalew’s 10th kilometre was covered in 2:44, allowing him to open a 30-metre gap on Tola and effectively killing off his opposition.

At the tape a more than joyful Ayalew had a two-second margin on Tola while Elabbassi easily prevailed over Toroitich. Much to the delight of the knowledgeable crowd assembled, Spanish cross-country champion Abadia finished a surprising fifth ahead of Kibet, the eighth-place finisher from the IAAF World Cross Country Championships Guiyang 2015.

A delighted winner, who confirmed he’s a brother of Hiwot and Wude Ayalew, said:

“I had already won last week in Antrim but today’s line-up was incredibly strong so I’m especially happy,” said Ayalew, the brother of 2013 world cross-country silver medallist Hiwot Ayalew and 2009 world 10,000m bronze medallist Wude Ayalew.

His next appearance will be next Sunday in Italy, while later this year he hopes to qualify for both the 5000m and 10,000m at the Olympics in Rio.

“I sustained a stomach pain on Friday and needed the assistance of a doctor,” said Tola, the winner in Seville last week. “Under these circumstances, I can’t complain with my runner-up place today. I will now go back home and will prepare for a half marathon before trying to make the Ethiopian team for the Olympics in the 10,000m, which won’t be an easy task.”

When asked about who is his favourite Ethiopian athlete between Haile Gebrselassie and Kenenisa Beleke, Tola laughed. “Both,” he replied. “I can’t choose one of them ahead of the other.”

Cheptai ends Kenyan drought

World cross-country bronze medallist Netsanet Gudeta was the early leader in the women’s event.

Fellow Ethiopian Alemitu Heroye, the world junior 500m champion, Cheptai and Uganda’s Juliet Chekwel were right beside Gudeta, but Chekwel was not able to follow in the leading trio’s footsteps beyond the half-way mark.

The key moment came on the penultimate lap when Cheptai broke away from her Ethiopian pursuers with ease. Cheptai, who finished seventh at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships Guiyang 2015 and over 5000m at the IAAF World Championships Beijing 2015, had built a margin of nine seconds at the bell. Gudeta was another eight seconds ahead of Heroye.

There were no major changes on the final circuit and the 23-year-old Cheptai crossed the finish line unopposed, 22 seconds in front of Gudeta to become the first Kenyan woman to win in Elgoibar since 2009. Heroye had to settle for third and finished slightly injured, so was then treated by the medical team.

“I finished third three here years ago so today’s race is a big improvement,” said Cheptai, who trains alongside Viola Kibiwot. “The weather was fantastic; I really prefer the sun to the cold. I will now return to Kenya to prepare for July’s Kenyan Olympic trials. I would like to compete over 10,000m in Rio.”

France’s Hugo Hay and Spain’s Celia Anton took respective victories at the ‘Mamo Wolde’ Trophy by winning the junior events.

The next IAAF Cross Country Permit meeting will be the Cinque Molini Meet in San Vittore Olona on 31 January.

Emeterio Valiente for the IAAF

Leading results

Men (10.8km)
1 Aweke Ayalew (BRN) 32:05
2 Tamirat Tola (ETH) 32:07
3 El Hassan El Habbassi (BRN) 32:19
4 Timothy Toroitich (UGA) 32:29
5 Toni Abadia (ESP) 32:38
6 Moses Kibet (UGA) 32:53
7 Ilias Fifa (ESP) 33:01
8 Ayad Lamdassem (ESP) 33:01
9 Roberto Alaiz (ESP) 33:29
10 Juan Antonio Perez Moreno (ESP) 33:38

Women (7.6km)
1 Irene Cheptai (KEN) 24:49
2 Netsanet Gudeta (ETH) 25:11
3 Alemitu Heroye (ETH) 25:24
4 Juliet Chekwel (UGA) 25:44
5 Trihas Gebre (ESP) 25:49
6 Ancuta Bobocel (ROU) 26:11
7 Diana Martin (ESP) 26:29
8 Nuria Lugueros (ESP) 26:46
9 Iris Fuentes Pila (ESP) 26:51
10 Lidia Rodriguez (GBR) 26:57