Superb performances against high quality fields enabled Zahra Ouaziz of Morocco and Tom Nyariki of Kenya to score probing victories in today’s IAAF World Cross Challenge event, in Vilamoura, Portugal, run on a new 2.1 km course specially prepared for next year’s IAAF World Cross Country Championships.
The men’s race was a Kenyan affair, with Tom Nyariki and Paul Koech taking charge of the pace after only one of the five laps. They were in a class of their own, leaving their closest opponents some 20 seconds adrift.
Koech, the reigning IAAF World Half Marathon Champion and Tom Nyariki took it in turns to lead, finding the quick course to their liking.
Nyariki took off and left his compatriot in his wake, with some 600 metres to go. Koech could only look on, as Nyariki imperiously crossed the finish line for his third successive victory in the Almond Blossom. Paulo Guerra gave his home crowd plenty to cheer about with a very impressive third place, behind the two Kenyans.
The battle for first place went to the wire in the women’s race, and in favour of Zahra Ouaziz, the gutsy Moroccan, who outsprinted Gete Wami with a mere 10 metres to go. Leah Malot (KEN), Gete Wami (ETH), and home favourite, Fernanda Ribeiro (POR) took it in turns to share the lead during the first three laps of the extremely fast rolling course, while Zahra Ouaziz sat on their heels. In the last lap however, Ouaziz and Wami pulled away thanks to a devastating burst, which immediately opened an unbeatable gap.
Ouaziz’s superior finish enabled her to take the race, prompting her to declare after the race that she "adored the fast course, and could not wait to challenge her opponents on it next year, at the occasion of the Year 2000 IAAF World Cross Country Championships".
Before then, however, we will be watching her closely at the occasion of the 1999 edition of the IAAF World Cross Country Championships, that take place in Belfast next March 27th / 28th.
The IAAF World Cross Challenge is now led by Gete Wami (ETH) with 94 points, ahead of the young Finn, Annemari Sandell who has 69 points. Thomas Nyariki leads the men’s standings with 64 points, with Paul Koech a close second with 63 points.
The next stop of the IAAF World Cross Challenge is in Chiba, Japan, on February 21st.
Jane Boulter for the IAAF