Huelva, SpainSpain’s reigning IberoAmerican 1500m champion Nuria Fernández produced the vintage performance at the ‘Gran Premio de Andalucía’ held on Wednesday night (9) in the southwest city of Huelva. The Spaniard set a new world leading performance for the 3000m with a stunning 8:38.05 clocking.
A creditable fourth at last year’s Berlin Worlds in her specialist 1500 event, Fernández’s victory was all but easy as she faced the fierce opposition provided by Kenya’s Ines Chenonge, a fine 6th in Berlin over 5000m, who had to settle for second on this occasion thanks a fine time of 8:38.75.
Powerfully led by Ethiopia’s Almensch Belete the race opened at a brisk rhythm (2:52.61 for the first kilometre). It was Portugal’s Sara Moreira – author of a respectable sub-15:00 5000m time in Hengelo ten days ago – who took charge of the pace then to cruise the 2000m point in 5:47.88.
Shortly after the bell Chenonge made her move to open a sizeable margin on Fernández and Moreira but the local athlete never surrendered. She closed the gap gradually to finally overtake the Kenyan with 50m remaining to the delight of the enthusiastic crowd.
Moreira came third in a PB of 8:42.69 while last year’s victor Natalia Rodríguez, the reigning World indoor silver medallist, faded through the last kilometre to finish a distant fourth in 8:55.03.
First major medal in Barcelona after motherhood?
Fernández became a mother in October 2007 but bounced back successfully in 2009 to become the fastest athlete on the boards with a 4:01.77 1500m performance to later take 4th place at both the Berlin Worlds and that year’s European indoors in Turin over 3000m.
The ecstatic winner declared: “My coach Manuel Pascua had already told me that I was in 8:40 form but before the start I felt a bit tired after my 4:05.71 1500m effort from last Saturday to win the Ibero-American title. Once into the race I realized that I was able to follow the forefront pace so it encouraged me a lot. With some 300m left I had lost ground to (Chenonge) but I still had enough energy to go for her and I managed to finally overtake her.”
The Spaniard, who will turn 34 next August, had also a special mention for the crowd: “The fans helped me a lot, I could perfectly hear how they were cheering for me and that was a bonus of strength for me.” Fernández will race next at the European Team Championships (19/20 June) in Bergen where she’ll be contesting the 800m.
Asked on her expectations for next month’s Europeans in Barcelona, an adamant Fernández, who still lacks a major medal, explained: “I just want to contest the championships at 100% fitness and do my very best. I would say I’m a bit better than last season in terms of shape by this early stage of the season. Would I sign a silver medal right now? No, I don’t sign anything beforehand.”
Domínguez on route to Barcelona gold
The other highlight of the evening took place in the women’s 3000m Steeplechase where Spain’s reigning World champion Marta Domínguez set the fastest European time of the season thanks to a 9:17.07 mark.
Domínguez and the in-form Portuguese Jessica Augusto had agreed to take turns at the front of the race as they were the only two top-class athletes in the line-up. It was the 34-year-old Spaniard who first dictated the pace but Augusto soon replaced her with the pace-setting duties.
The pair went through the opening kilometre in a frantic 3:02.30 led by Domínguez. With 3:45 on the clock the newly-minted Ibero-American 3000m champion Portuguese took command again to reach the 2000m in a still fast 6:07.77. By then Domínguez ran some 10m behind and Augusto’s advantage became even bigger then but entering the final lap the leader began to slow down gradually and Domínguez caught her some 200m left to face the final water-jump with a chance to win.
Domínguez’s winning time of 9:17:07 in her first steeplechase outing since the Berlin final is also the third quickest time so far this season while runner-up Augusto had the consolation of a new career best of 9:18:54, also a Portuguese national record.
Powerful 5000m display by Menjo
Kenya’s Josephat Kiprono Menjo impressed with a brilliant 5000m performance timed at a career best of 13:02.54. After a 7:56.09 3000m split, 30-year-old Menjo killed the race thanks to a 2:34 1000m section which neither Eritrea’s Kidane Tadesse nor Spain’s reigning European champion Jesús España could keep with such a lethal pace. Menjo, who timed 27:04 for the 10k on the road last April in Barcelona, ran in solitude for the last mile to romp home unopposed while Tadese took second in 13:11.85 with España in third, 13:18.90.
Costa Rica’s Nery Brenes beat again – as he did at the Ibero-American champs last weekend – Cuba’s reigning World indoor bronze medallist William Collazo, 45.54 and 45.66 their respective clockings.
The men’s 1500m went for Spain’s 2007 European U-23 champion Álvaro Rodríguez in 3:37.15 ahead of his compatriots Manuel Olmedo (3:37.70) and former European champion Reyes Estévez, 3:37.80. The women’s event was dominated by the Ethiopian pair of Asmare Bekele (4:08.30) and Tizita Bogale 4:08.73.
Luis Alberto Marco managed another local win in the 800m where the reigning European indoor silver medallist clocked 1:48.12 while Britain’s Niall Brooks, still a junior, was given the same time, a SB for him.
Spain’s reigning European 3000m steeplechase silver medallist José Luis Blanco took a fine victory in 8:22.00 ahead of the rest of top Spanish specialists topped by Víctor García with a PB of 8:26.45.
Olympic 800m bronze medallist Hasna Benhassi was given a scare in his specialist event by her fellow Moroccan Malika Akkaoui, with the 32-year-old prevailing in 2:01.17 for her compatriot’s 2:01.17.
In the infield, Spain’s Mario Pestano suffered a narrow win in the men’s Discus to Cuba’s Jorge Fernández, 65.02 and 64.69 their respective releases while the reigning World High Jump champion Yaroslav Rybakov of Russia claimed victory with a 2.27 third-time clearance ahead of America’s Jamie Nieto and Ukraine’s Andriy Protsenko, both having jumped 2.25.
Finally, Argentina’s Ibero-American Hammer champion Jennifer Dalhgren defeated Cuba’s current Olympic silver medallist Yipsi Moreno thanks to a 72.85 third-round toss while the Cuban managed a SB of 71.41 in round four.
Emeterio Valiente for the IAAF