World 10,000m track and 'double-double' World Cross Country champion Kenenisa Bekele captured a convincing win at the 'XXII Cross Internacional de Itálica held on a sunny day today.
Bekele's fellow countryman Gebre Gebremariam finished a distant second thirteen seconds behind, while Kenya's Abraham Chebii came third another twelve seconds adrift.
Before the race there was some talk on Gebremariam's chances of beating Bekele and the doubt remained for exactly 22 minutes, it was then that Bekele's front running (since the third kilometre) finally paid off and he left Gebremariam's company with ease. Previously, Uganda's Boniface Kiprop and Chebii had failed to follow Bekele's devastating pace.
By the eighth kilometre the 21-year-old Ethiopian had built a 8
second-gap over Gebremariam, himself another 13 seconds ahead Chebii and Kiprop, a contest which unfolded into a thrilling battle for third.
Bekele had extended his winning margin to 13 seconds at the finish line, while Chebii's finishing speed gave him third place three seconds ahead of Kiprop. Last year's runner-up Eritrea's Tadesse Zersenay was fifth having run alongside Chebii and Kiprop for most of the race.
Spain's 10,000m European champion José Manuel Martínez was the first European home in eighth, well clear of fellow countryman Juan Carlos de la Ossa, 9th, Portugal's Eduardo Henriques, 10th, and Ukraine's Yevgeny Bozhko, 13th.
Bekele declared, "I'm delighted with today's win because there were many remarkable athletes competing. I'll next run 3000m indoors in Stuttgart on 31 January."
"I'm still thinking about my schedule for the Worlds Cross Country champs in Brussels and just now I believe that I'll be contesting only the long race."
"It's not a final decision but this year is already tough enough with the Olympic Games in August and I would like to reach the Olympics in good shape as they are my primary goal; to double again on the cross could be too much."
Asked about his chances of beating Bekele, Gebremariam said: "the only possible recipe is good training. I'll probably run next in San Sebastián next Sunday and then I'll contest the long race in Brussels."
Denboba retains title in close sprint finish
The women's race saw an Ethiopian double thanks to the reigning World Cross Country bronze medallist Merima Denboba and her young compatriot Mestewat Tufa, still 17. Denboba repeated last year's win in a thrilling sprint which beat Tufa by only one second. In doing so Denboba returned to her winning ways as she last won on the circuit in Soria on 23 November 2003.
The race opened cautiously with the Portuguese pair of Monica Rosa and Ana Dias setting the early pace and all the favourites tucked behind.
The first major strike came just before the fourth kilometre when Tufa and Denboba pulled away leaving Portugal's Analia Rosa three seconds behind, and Kenya's Pamela Amisamuk another two seconds adrift, with 2500m to go.
Tufa, who had defeated Denboba in Elgóibar, when they came third and fourth respectively, tried to break away throughout the last lap but Denoba remained at Tufa's shoulder and launched a devastating kick with 150m left to take revenge from her Elgóibar loss.
Analia Rosa kept her third place ten seconds behind Denboba, while Malawi's Catherine Chikwakwa overtook Pamela Amisamuk in the last kilometre to take fourth.
The winner said: "I'm happy with my second straight win here in Itálica. I still feel some pain in my left leg but I'm OK now. I return now to Ethiopia to build up for the National trials, on 28-29 February; I hope to contest both races (short and long) there," concluded Denboba.
1 Kenenisa Bekele (Eth) 31:01
2 Gebre Gebremariam (Eth) 31:14
3 Abraham Chebii (Ken) 31:26
4 Boniface Kiprop (Uga) 31:29
5 Tadesse Zersanay (Eri) 31:37
6 Hicham Chatt (Mar) 32:06
7 Bernard Chepkok (Ken) 32:12
8 José Manuel Martínez (Esp) 32:16
9 Juan Carlos de la Ossa (Esp) 32:29
10 Eduardo Henriques (Por) 32:30
1 Merima Denboba (Eth) 21:43
2 Mestewat Tufa (Eth) 21:44
3 Analia Rosa (Por) 21:53
4 Catherine Chikwakwa (Maw) 22:02
5 Pamela Amisamuk (Ken) 22:10
6 Jacqueline Martín (Esp) 22:12
7 Helena Sampaio (Por) 22:15
8 Louise Damen (Gbr) 22:20
9 Ana Dias (Por) 22:26
10 Alessandra Aguilar (Esp) 22:31