Obudu, NigeriaEthiopia’s Habtamu Fikadu and Mamitu Deska stole the limelight at the 5th Obudu International Mountain Race in Obudu, Cross River State in south east Nigeria on Saturday (28).
The runners were flagged of by the Obioma Liyel Imoke, the wife of the Governor of Cross River State Senator Liyel Imoke, and after barely a kilometre into the race a large lead group had already formed which comprised only Ethiopians and Kenyans who steadily pulled away from the rest of the field.
The Ethiopians upfront were Mestawat Tufa, Meselech Melkamu, Mamitu Deska, Rehima Kedir, and Belamesh Gebre, and their Kenyan rivals were Margaret Wangare, Pauline Wangui, Genevive Njoku, Pamela Chepkorch Bundtich and Rose Jerotich Kosgei.
Over the first half of the race a series of surges by Melkamu and Tufa had the effect of thinning down the group as Maiyo, Wangui, Bundotich, Njoku, Kosgei and Wangare, Kedir gradually fell off the pace.
However, Melkamu’s spirited attacks took their toll on her too during the steepest section of the course during the seventh and eight kilometres. Clutching her stomach she suddenly stopped leaving Deska and Tufa to forge ahead, though she did get back into her stride and keep in contact.
As the gradient levelled out in the ninth kilometre, Deska made her move breaking away from Tufa and went onto carry the day in a winning time of 49:12. She was followed by Tufa (49:13), and a now distant Melkamu (49:54). Wangare was the first Kenyan across the finish line in 49:55.
“Although the race was just 11 kilometres it demands the effort of a half marathon runner. I am happy to win in this my first visit to Nigeria,” confirmed a delighted Deska.
Melkamu, the Africa 10,000m record holder, commented, “this is a tough hilly race. I first felt the pain in my stomach at six kilometres. But rather than fading away it became more intense so I stopped running for while before resuming again. This race requires special preparation.”
Jolanda Verstraten (the Netherlands) was the best placed non-African in the race. She vowed to return, “I liked this experience although it was a tough race. Next year I will be back aiming to finish in the top ten.”
Senator Liyel Imoke, the Cross River State Governor flagged off the men’s contest 15 minutes after the women’s race got underway. In a similar fashion to that earlier competition, the men’s showdown was dominated by East Africans.
Defending champion Abebe Dinkesa and compatriot Habtamu Fikadu led a spirited effort to fend off the larger Kenyan contingent lead by Hillary Kipchumba and MacDonald Ondara, and the experienced Ugandans Geoffrey Kusuro, who is the reigning World Mountain Running champion, John Mellasiya and Martin Torotich.
The steep incline at the eighth kilometre was once again the defining moment of the race allowing Fikadu to take the first advantage which he built on and increased in the final sprint for the finish line. However even though Fikadu prevailed in winning the race in 42:03, he was closely followed home by Kusuro (42:11) Ondara (42:14) Kipchumba (42:18) and Dinkesa (52:35).
“I am glad to win this race once again,” says Fikadu. “I won this race in 2007, but last year did not have a good season and finished third. After finishing fifth at the World Cross Country Championships in Amman, Jordan in March, I was sure that I could win this race today.”
Defending champion Dinkesa was gracious in defeat, “after the World Championships in Berlin Germany I had an injury. So I have trained for only three weeks before coming to Obudu. Next year I will be back to win the title.”
This year the event incorporated the inaugural men’s African Mountain Running Championships and a women’s championship will be introduced next year.
Mark Ouma for the IAAF