Maryam Jamal en route to victory at the Eurocross (Kohl Rosch) © Copyright
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Jamal and Moroccan men dominate in Diekirch

Maryam Jamal’s excursion to Cross Country was a successful one as the World 1500m champion from Bahrain took the ING Eurocross, an IAAF Cross Country Permit Meeting, in Diekirch on Sunday (27) afternoon in convincing fashion.

In front of 1000 spectators the men’s race turned into a Moroccan affair with Elabbassi El Hassan winning the race ahead of two fellow countrymen. Athletes from 23 nations competed at the event in Luxembourg runing in cool but dry conditions with temperatures of around 5° Celsius and light winds.

Three weeks before the World Cross Country Championships in Punta Umbria (Spain) on 20 March the trio of Moroccan runners showed a great team performance in the 10.2 k race. El Hassan, Abdellah Tagharrafet and Najim El Qady took the initiative right from the start. They were the only three Moroccans in the race and they made sure that their rivals did not see much more than their backs. It was only on the first short lap of less than a kilometre that the defending champion Onesphore Nkunzimana of Burundi could hold on. But he soon had to bury any hopes of achieving a record fourth victory in Diekirch. Nkunzimana lost contact to the three leaders and later even dropped out of the race. “He explained that he had suffered a pulled muscle and stopped as a precaution to prevent further injury,” said Race Director Antoine Moureaud.

While the three Moroccans kept a high pace at front their advantage continually grew. It was in the final of the five 1.35 k laps when El Hassan pulled away slightly, opened a small gap and secured the victory in 31:27.1. Tagharrafet (31:28.7) and El Qady (31:29.6) followed close behind. El Hassan, who has not featured internationally before, won a couple of Cross Country races in Morocco this winter and placed seventh in the Marrakech Half Marathon a month ago, clocking 1:02:53. El Hassan as well as Tagharrafet and El Qady have already been selected for the World Cross Country Championships.

The gap to fourth placed showed what a fine race the top three had run. More than a minute behind was fourth place finisher Daabayaa Badhaso of Norway who clocked 32:35.7. Running much of the race on their own as well, Willy Nduwimana (Burundi/32:50.3), Khalid Choukoud (Netherlands/33:01.2), Kamil Poczwardowski (Poland/33:20,7) and Steffen Uliczka (Germany/33:30.0) took the next places.

Organisers had had bad luck before their event, since highly-rated Leonard Langat failed to turn up due to visa problems. The Kenyan could well have challenged the Morrocan trio.

Jamal displays speed over 5K as well

The women’s race developed differently from the men’s with five runners forming an early leading group. It was Kenya’s Antonina Rutto, who was doing most of the work at front during the 5.35 k race. Behind her Jamal was always in control while Simret Restle (Germany), Almenesh Belete (Ethiopia) and Portugal’s Clarisse Cruz were the other runners in this group.

Cruz was the first to loose contact shortly before the leading group entered the final lap of five. But then none of the had any answer to Jamal’s speed on the final circuit. While the 26-year-old pulled away with ease and clocked 19:03.8 there was a surprise outcome in the fight for second place: Restle (19:09.5) was able to hold off Rutto (19:10.8) and Belete (19:19.2), who had placed second a year ago in Diekirch. Cruz took fifth place in 19:38.4, followed by Hanane Janat (Morocco/20:05.8), Alexandra Jawor (Poland/20:07.9) and Agnieszka Ciolek (Poland/20:13.8).

The ING Eurocross featured international fields in the junior races as well. Jonathan van Winkel was the winner of the 6.15Km junior men’s event. The runner from Belgium clocked 21:17.0 and was followed by Andrzej Rogiewicz (Poland/21:28.0) and Mikalai Mikhniuk (Belarus/22:04.0). The 4.25Km junior women’s race was won by Pia von Keutz (Germany) in 17:06.1. Linda Betzler (Germany) took second in 17:25.9 while Joanne Schartz (Luxembourg/18:12.1) was third.

Jörg Wenig for the IAAF