Kenya’s Mark Kiptoo captured a thrilling sprint victory at the ‘59th Cross Internacional Zornotza’ held on Sunday (6) on a sunny day. The 36-year-old current African 5000m champion was fastest among the five athletes who delivered an unforgettable finish, exactly 20 years after the World Cross Country Championships was held in Amorebieta.
On the women’s side Magdalene Masai, the younger sister of the renowned Linet Masai, stamped her authority to grab a five-second win from Eritrea’s Nazareth Weldu. In doing so, the 19-year-old Masai follows in her illustrious sister’s footsteps as the three-time World cross silver medallist Linet won in Amorebieta back in 2009.
Third time lucky for Kiptoo – men’s race
In the absence of 2011 and 2012 victor Joseph Ebuya, it was his fellow Kenyan Vincent Kiprop Chepkok who wore the ‘1’ bib. The recent Venta de Baños winner tried his best from the gun to improve on his two runner-up places here over the last couple of years, and although he made it on to the podium, he once again missed out on the victory.
Eritrea’s Kuflom Sium was the early leader closely followed by Chepkok, Kiptoo, Uganda’s Simon Ayeko and the Eritrean pair of Amanuel Mesel and Kidane Tadese. By the 3km point, covered in 9:19, the only non-African in the leading group was Spain’s Javier Guerra, a creditable eighth at last month’s European Cross Country Championships in Budapest.
Much to the delight of the knowledgeable Spanish crowd, Guerra moved to the front some 10 minutes into the race but his lead was short-lived as the Spanish-based Sium soon returned to the front to increase the pace. As a result, only six men remained with winning chances at the 6km point (18:37); the Eritrean trio, the Kenyan duo and Guerra, while Ayeko ran way back.
Chepkok and Sium took turns at sharing the lead for several kilometres while the eventual winner Kiptoo remained cautiously tucked behind. Guerra closed in on the group, but the increasingly quicker rhythm set by the African armada (6:05 2km lap compared to the previous 6:18) made the 29-year-old surrender on the closing lap.
The last 1km turned out to be a five-man battle in the hunt for the victory. With 100m remaining all of them were virtually even but it was the oldest by far, Kiptoo, who found another gear in the latter stages to take the lead for the very first time in the race. There was no catching him and he romped home in 32:42, clearly ahead of Mesel (32:44) while Chepkok had to find some consolation in his third-place finish ahead of Sium, both athletes credited with 32:45.
“I can’t describe my happiness as I had finished fifth and fourth in previous years and I’m now the champion!” commented Kiptoo, who took up athletics seriously at the late age of 29.
Masai denies Weldu’s defence
The women’s 6.7km contest was billed as a battle between Magdalene Masai, last year’s winner Nazareth Weldu and Spain’s Diana Martín, fresh from a third place at last Monday’s New Year’s Eve race in Madrid where she set a massive career best of 32:32 for 10km on the road.
The race began quite conservatively with Weldu and Spain’s Jacqueline Martín dictating the early pace, going through 2km comfortably in 7:21. No less than 13 women made up the large lead group at midway with Diana Martín in charge of the race, but Masai injected a much brisker pace some 1.8km away from home which only could be matched by the in-form Martín, looking for the first home victory since the year 2006.
The fierce Masai-Martín clash lasted 1.2km as the Kenyan managed to open a sizeable margin to secure her win. With 700m remaining, Masai led by four seconds from Martín, herself seven seconds ahead of a trio comprising Weldu and Spaniards Zulema Fuentes-Pila and Lidia Rodríguez.
While Masai, a 15:17.75 5000m performer, crossed the finish line unopposed, Martín’s second place didn’t seem in jeopardy, but the heated fight for the third spot led Weldu to pip a tired Martín by inches, five seconds adrift of the victor but one second clear of the Spaniard.
“My sister Linet had told me about this race and it has not let me down at all,” commented Masai, who was born exactly one week after the IAAF Cross Country Championships were held in Amorebieta 20 years ago. “I kicked-off quite conservatively, then I pushed hard and when I realised Martín faltered a bit I knew the win was mine.”
Emeterio Valiente for the IAAF
1 Mark Kiptoo (KEN) 32:42
2 Amanuel Mesel (ERI) 32:44
3 Vincent Chepkok (KEN) 32:45
4 Kiflon Sium (ERI) 32:45
5 Kidane Tadese (ERI) 32:47
6 Javier Guerra (ESP) 32:59
7 Jesús Antonio Núñez (ESP) 33:37
8 Daniel Sanz (ESP) 33:40
9 Iván Fernández (ESP) 33:48
10 Simon Ayeko (UGA) 33:52
1 Magdalene Masai (KEN) 23:44
2 Nazareth Weldu (ERI) 23:49
3 Diana Martín (ESP) 23:50
4 Lidia Rodríguez (ESP) 23:50
5 Zulema Fuentes-Pila (ESP) 23:51
6 Estela Navascués (ESP) 23:57
7 Iris Fuentes-Pila (ESP) 24:08
8 Marta Silvestre (ESP) 24:09
9 Elena García (ESP) 24:24
10 Irene Pelayo (ESP) 24:28