Reigning World Cross Country long course champion Werknesh Kidane led from the half-way point to win the Senior Women's 8km race which was the highlight of the first day's action at the 21st East African Cross Country Championships.
The 22-year old, who won the 10,000m track silver in Paris last summer, had been out of action for a month since January, returned with a bang taking her fourth successive title in the event.
With only one lap completed in the race, Kidane led a small pack of athletes (the others were Teiba Erkesso, Tirunesh Dibaba, Eyerusalem Kuma, and Mestawot Tufa), but it took just a kilometre of running before she and Erkesso moved away from the pack. Midway into the race, however, the experience and speed of Kidane moved her away from the Ethiopian Half Marathon champion, and she never looked back.
Kidane finished in 26:43 three seconds ahead of her closest challenger Erkesso in second place with World 5000m track champion Tirunesh Dibaba coming third (26:47).
"I felt no pain today," Kidane said after a brilliant display of front-running. "I am happy with the way I run and I hope with the help of God to do well in Brussels (World XC Champs, 20/21 March)."
Upset in the Men's 4km
There was a major upset in the Senior men's 4km race as Dejene Birhanu beat Gebre Gebremariam, the reigning World Cross Bronze 12km medallist, by a second in a sprint to the finish. The 20-year old Gebremariam, who opted to move down to the shorter distance only a day before the race, could not match the finishing power of Birhanu as the latter finished in 11:56, just a second ahead of his more illustrious compatriot.
The race had been a close affair until the 400m before the finish line with Kenyan Elkana Nguesi among the leading pack of five that had broken away from the rest of the field at the half-way point.
At this point, Abebe Tinkessa, Mohammed Awol, Birhanu, Gebremariam, and Nguesi were all in contention, but with the home straight in sight, Gebremariam opened a 20m gap between himself and the rest.
However, while the challenge of the others faltered, Birhanu over-took the former World Junior Cross Country champion with just 50 metres to go before the finish line.
Mohammed Awol (11:59) beat Abebe Tinkessa to third place with all four getting automatic qualification to the World championships in Paris.
It was Birhanu's first victory at these championships, but one which he had been threatening given his successive third-place finishes in the previous two years.
Melkamu invincible again
In the other International race of the day, last year's Junior champion Meselech Melkamu showed why she is regarded by some local observers as the next Tirunesh Dibaba taking the Junior women's 8km race in a romp (21:50). Workitu Ayana (21:52) and Yenealem Ayenew (21:55) occupied the other two places on the podium.
The 17-year old has now won two national championships at the distance and says that she hopes for better fortunes in Brussels next month.
"Last year (in Lausanne), I made a costly mistake by leading from the front for larger parts of the race, but this year, I have learned from my mistake. I think with the help of God, I might think of the medals this year."
21st East African Cross Country Championships Unofficial Standings- Day 1
NB. there are as yet no official times available.
6km Junior Women (International)
1. Meselech Melkamu (EEPCO) 21:50
2. Workitu Ayana (Banks) 21:52
3. Yenealem Ayenew (Rental Houses) 21:55
6km Junior Women (Regional)
1. Mekiya Haroun (Oromia)
2. Yetemwork Tsegaye (Oromia)
3. Hiwot Teshome (South Nations and People's Regional State)
4km Senior Men (International)
1. Dejene Birhanu (Prisons) 11:56
2. Gebregziabher Gebremariam (Banks) 11:57
3. Mohammed Awol (Prisons) 11:59
8km Senior Women (International)
1. Werknesh Kidane (Banks) 26:43
2. Teiba Erkesso (Prisons) 26:46
3. Tirunesh Dibaba (Prisons) 26:47
8km Senior Women (International)
1. Getenest Haitu (Tigrai)
2. Wete Ayalew (Amhara)
3. Meseret Alaro (South Nations and People's Regional State)