World Junior Cross Country gold medallist Gebre-egziabher Gebremariam, produced a tremendous burst in the final 500m to win the men's 10km race in the TOTAL Great Ethiopian Run in Addis Ababa on Sunday. But all the action was reserved for the Women’s event as Workinesh Kidane took the title in a course record time, as the Ethiopians once again looked invincible to the Kenyan challenge lead by Rahab Ndungu, who could only manage 19th.
On a hot sunny morning in Addis Ababa - some 2400km above sea level - the favourites including double World Cross Country winner Kenenisa Bekele took to the starting blocks hoping for another formal win. But they were to be surprised by Gebremariam, who is not very familiar to the general public, but is already a household name in junior racing circles, having won the 10,000m gold and 5000m bronze at the World Juniors in Jamaica this summer.
The elite runners settled into their stride after a tentative start and moved away from the rest of the field. At the 3km mark, the contest took on a more formal shape, as a breakaway group lead by Bekele completed the first lap 200m away from the rest of the participants. That pack included two Kenyans, Albert Chepkurui and Sammy Kipruto, and three other Ethiopians, Sileshi Sihin and Abebe Teskesa, with Gebremariam comfortably sitting at the back of the pack letting the others dictate the pace.
But as the race wore on, three of the four Ethiopians broke away from the pack leaving the Kenyans out of the contest. As expected, Bekele was leading the trio, but Sihin and Gebremariam didn't follow him closely.
However, by the 7th kilometre, Bekele was beginning to show signs of the injury that forced him out of action for four months this year. He surrendered his lead to the advancing Sihin, who looked good enough for the win with a comfortable stride towards the finish.
However, it was not going to be his day. With the finishing tape in sight, Gebremariam came from nowhere, producing a magnificent finishing kick which brought him home in style in a time of 30:15, but well off Haile Gebrselassie’s winning time last year. A disappointed Sihin came in second place five seconds later with Bekele finishing third. The first Kenyan to cross the line was Albert Chepkurui, who finished a disappointing eighth.
A giggling Gebremariam expressed his delight at winning the race afterwards. “I never expected to win the race,” he said. “It was a very nice race from the beginning. There was a difficult head wind coming towards us in the opening lap. But I stayed behind the pack and leaders were very tired because of the wind came directly at them.”
Pre-race favourite Bekele admitted that his injury problems were factors in his finishing third, but was full of praise for his conqueror Gebremariam.
“I really felt the pain in the sixth kilometre. This is my first official competition since returning from my four-month lay-off.“ Speaking about Gebremariam, he said, “He is a young and strong athlete. I am happy that he won because he has hope for the future.”
The women’s race was much tighter with Workinesh Kidane holding off the challenge from Tirunesh Dibaba and Eyerusalem Kuma to take the title in a course record time of 34:34, shaving about a minute off Berhane Adere’s mark set in last year’s race.
Dibaba, Kuma, and Merima Denboba had managed to keep an eye on Kidane until the 9th kilometre, but the 25-year-old looked too good for the field as she produced a final burst of acceleration of her own. The Kenyans were never in with a shout of preventing a clean sweep of the medals for Ethiopia with Rahab Ndungu, the only Kenyan coming in the top twenty in nineteenth position.
Speaking after the race, Kidane said that she was delighted about Ethiopia’s performance in the race. “I am very happy for myself and for my country,” she said. “I was given a good race by my fellow athletes this year and I am very happy that I have won.”
With the absence of such big name stars like Haile Gebrselassie, Assefa Mezgebu, Derartu Tulu, Berhane Adere and Gete Wami, the race looked a much more open affair than last year’s event when Gebreselassie and Adere strolled to victory. Lots of noise and excitement was generated when the organizers announced that the event officially became the largest international road race in Africa.
Elshadai Negash for the IAAF
2002 TOTAL Great Ethiopian Run official Results
1. Gebre-egziabher Gebremariam (ETH) 30:15
2. Sileshi Sihin (ETH) 30:20
3. Kenenisa Bekele (ETH) 30:32
4. Abebe Tekese (ETH) 30:46
5. Dejene Birhane (ETH) 31:02
8. Albert Chepkurui (KEN) 31:19
1. Workinesh Kidane (ETH) 34:34
2. Tirunesh Dibaba (ETH) 35:01
3. Eyerusalem Kuma (ETH) 35:28
4. Merima Denboba (ETH) 35:37
5. Leila Aman (ETH) 35:42
19.Rahab Ndungu (KEN) 37:38