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Edinburgh, ScotlandKenyans Eliud Kipchoge and Linet Masai produced exceptional performances as they stormed to victories at the Bupa Great Edinburgh International Cross Country on Saturday (8).
In beautiful winter weather the blanket of fresh snow and sunny conditions were challenging on the tough course of this IAAF Cross Country Permit Meeting through Holyrood Park. Despite the snow, which was not thick, the athletes from Kenya and Ethiopia took the first three places in the two individual events.
Kipchoge took the 4.2 k race in 13:12 from his fellow Kenyans Asbel Kiprop (13:18) and Brimin Kipruto (13:19). There was a similar advantage for Masai, who won the 5.7 k race in 20:24 with Ethiopia’s Genzebe Dibaba taking second (20:32). Vivian Cheruiyot was third in 20:36.
It was then Mo Farah of Great Britain who delighted a crowd of some 3500 who lined the course when he was the fastest runner in the 8.2Km Team Challenge, clocking 25:41. However Europe took the Team Challenge from the USA, Great Britain and a British Under-23/U-20 team.
Kipchoge does it the hard way
If there was a ‘Runner of the event’ award Kipchoge would probably have earned it on Saturday. It was the first time organisers had opened the 4.2 k event to international runners. And because of the shorter distance there were plenty of athletes in the field with enormous middle distance speed plus the 3000m Steeplechase Olympic champion. But it was Kipchoge who dominated the race more or less from the start in a surprising manner.
The 26-year-old Kenyan – the 5000m World champion in 2003 and 2008 Olympic silver medallist over the distance – took the lead and by half way the lead group consisted of five runners. Kipruto, Kipchoge’s training partner and reigning Olympic Steeplechase champion, and Britain’s Steve Vernon, who ran a brave race in the leading group, were behind. They were followed by Asbel Kiprop, the Olympic 1500m champion plus Briton Tom Lancashire.
It was on a steep uphill section where Kipchoge put the pressure on and the group was torn apart. Coming down the hill Kipchoge opened a two-metre gap on Kiprop, who was followed by Kipruto. Vernon and Lancashire were a bit further behind. But there was no chance of catching Kipchoge on this day who crossed the line six seconds ahead of Kiprop in 13:12. Kipruto was close behind (13:19) and Vernon performed well finishing fourth in 13:29. Lancashire took fifth in 13:29, followed by the European 1500 m champion Arturo Casado of Spain (13:37).
“I expected a good performance, because my training had gone very well. It is a good sign for the year,” said Kipchoge, who became a father for the second time only three weeks ago. It was his plan to run very fast from the beginning, but it was not necessarily because of the middle distance runners in the field.
“I always take every opponent serious – the Kenyans as well as the Europeans. But it was very challenging to run on the snow, because obviously I cannot train for this in Kenya.” Kipchoge won the first 8Km race in Edinburgh back in 2005 and now took the first international 4Km race of the event.
The Kenyan now plans to run two indoor races in February – one will be a 3000 m in Stuttgart, the other one could well be 500 m in Düsseldorf – and will then decide if he will run the Kenyan trials for the World Cross Country Championships.
“The big goal will be the 5000m at the World Championships in summer,” Kipchoge confirmed.
No stopping Linet Masai – women’s contest
Surprisingly it was a Marathon specialist who dictated the pace for a major portion of the race. Spain’s Allessandra Aguilar, who finished seventh at the European Championships in Barcelona last year, took the lead after about one mile. At first only four were able to follow: Kenyan favourites Masai and Cheruiyot – the reigning World champions at 10,000m and 5000m – plus Genzebe Dibaba (the younger sister of Tirunesh) and Britain’s Hattie Dean. But at around halfway British youngsters Charlotte Purdue and Stephanie Twell had reached the lead group as well with a different, more consistent approach but they were not in it for long.
At around 4k Masai began to up the pace and surged away. Entering the final lap she had an advantage which she managed to stretch. Behind her Dibaba caught Cheruiyot and in the end the two fought for the runner-up spot. It was the Ethiopian who won that battle, crossing the line in 20:32, eight seconds behind Masai and four ahead of Cheruiyot.
The real surprise came in the battle for fourth: Charlotte Purdue, the 19-year-old European junior Cross Country champion, showed a great performance leaving behind Dean (21:00), Aguilar (21:24) and Twell (21:38). While it was not a good day for the European Cross Country champion Jessica Augusto (Portugal/14th in 22:23) Kenya’s Commonwealth Games Steeplechase champion Milcah Chemos had to withdraw due to flu before the start.
“It was hard to run on snow, because I am not used to it,” Masai said. “Additionally the opposition was very strong, so I was not that confident before the race. Now I want to finally win the gold medal at the World Cross Country Championships in March, because in the past two years I ended up with silver.”
Team Challenge: Farah the fastest, but Europe prevails
Mo Farah was the individual winner of the first edition of the Team Challenge. But his British team had to be content with third place. The first six out of nine runners of each team scored. Europe, which had been the favourite team, had 50 points, closely followed by the Americans (53), who did surprisingly well. Britain’s senior team scored 69 while the juniors had 164.
After a cautious start on the 8.2Km course about a dozen runners formed the leading group by half-way. It was then the US captain Galen Rupp, who increased the pace with European Champion Serhiy Lebid (Ukraine/captain of Europe’s team), Farah and Spain’s Ayad Lamdassam close behind.
“I had planned to start a bit slower and have an eye on Lebid and the others,” Farah later explained.
He then put in a decisive surge up and down the hill. Entering the last lap the double European champion on the track was a couple of metres ahead of Rupp, who was followed home by Lamdassam and Lebid. There was no change in this order over the final lap, where Farah increased his advantage. He finally crossed the line in 25:41, well in front of Rupp (25:50), Lamdassam (25:55) and Lebid (26:00).
“This was quite a change compared to my recent training in Kenya,” said Farah. “In Iten I was running at an altitude of 8000 feet. Here it was slippery and we had snow. Both conditions make it very tough.”
Farah will race next at the Birmingham Indoor meeting next month where he will either contest the 3000 or 5000m. After that Farah will decide if he’ll target the European indoor championships or the World Cross Country Championships.