Reigning World junior Cross Country champion Ibrahim Jeilan became the first Ethiopian to win the Giro di Castelbuono tonight. The race, held in a little town near Palermo in Sicily, is one of the oldest races in the world, as it was first run in 1912 and this celebrated its 83rd edition.
Jeilan out-sprinted Kenya's Paul Malakwen Kosgei by three seconds. Uganda's Martin Toroitich closed in thirrd, ahead of last year's champion José Manuel Martinez from Spain.
The future of Ethiopia?
The young Ethiopian, born in 1989, is one of the future hopes for his country in the long distances. He also won the gold medal in the 10,000m at 2006 World junior championships and that year set the World youth best over the same distance in Brussels with 27:02.81. A couple of weeks ago Jeilan was a little disappointed at the World junior championships in Bydgoszcz, as he was not able to defend his title, settling for the bronze.
The race - A final sprint
In Castelbuono Jeilan controlled the race until the final lap. The leading pack got smaller and smaller lap by lap, but the first strong action came at exactly halfway into the 11.3 Km course. At the beginning of the sixth lap Martinez, who last year dominated the race rom the outset, increased the pace on a very hard uphill stretch of the 1.1km lap, which is repeated ten times. Only Jeilan, Kosgei, Toroitich, Ukraine's Sergiy Lebid and Italy's Daniele Meucci followed the Spaniard.
In the seventh lap Meucci lost contact and also Lebid struggled on the uphill. Martinez's move was overcome by one by Kosgei on the next lap. The Kenyan, who in 2002 won the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships, pushed hard and broke the pack. He and Jeilan closed that lap nine seconds ahead of Toroitich and Martinez, while Lebid crossed the line 13 seconds behind.
The two leaders waited for the last lap before unleashing their final attack. The Ethiopian pushed on the hill, but Kosgei resisted. Jeilan tried again with 200m to go and took a 10 meter lead on his rival which he defended until the finish. His time of 34:43 is well shy of the race record of 33:46 set by Martin Lel in 2006.
"I did not prepare for this race, but I'm in a very good shape as I hoped to be selected for the Olympic Games," Jeilan said. Earlier this year he clocked 27:13.85 in Eugene over 10,000m, but the Ethiopian Federation selected their "Big Three" for Beijing: Kenenisa Bekele, Haile Gebrselassie and Sileshi Sihine.
"Last year I was in better shape," Martinez said about his fourth place. "Today the African ran faster than me, that's all."
Meucci was the first Italian finishing sixth. 2006 European Cross Country junior champion Andrea Lalli closed in eighth place, ahead of Kenya's Richard Limo, the 2001 World champion in the 5000m.
Alberto Zorzi for the IAAF
Leading results -
Men's race (11.3km):
1. Ibrahim Jeilan, ETH, 34:43
2. Paul Malakwen Kosgei, KEN, 34:46
3. Martin Toroitich, UGA, 34:58
4. José Manuel Martinez, ESP, 35:03
5. Sergiy Lebid, UKR, 35:06
6. Daniele Meucci, ITA, 35:35
7. José Rios, ESP, 35:49
8. Andrea Lalli, ITA, 36:01
9. Richard Limo, KEN, 36:13
10. Bibi Hamad, MOR, 36:25