Frantic finish in Seville - Moses Kipsiro (l) edges Tariku Bekele (Juan Rodelas) © Copyright
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Kipsiro stings Bekele, Kiplagat cruises in Seville Cross Country

Santiponce (Seville), SpainUganda’s Moses Kipsiro captured a near photo-finish win from Ethiopia’s reigning World indoor 3000m champion Tariku Bekele at the ‘27th Cross Internacional de Itálica’ - the second Spanish leg of the 2008/2009 IAAF Cross Country permit series held today on a sunny day (17º C.)

In doing so the 22-year-old reigning World 5000m bronze medallist Kipsiro retained his title from last year when he became the first non-Ethiopian male winner for the last five years here.

Kipsiro’s tactical masterpiece

The 10,800m contest witnessed how the Kenyan triumvirate of reigning World silver medallist Leonard Komon, Moses Mosop - also silver medallist the year before - plus Gideon Ngatuny, a respectable 7th at the last Edinburgh Worlds ruled the race with a bunch of Ethiopians and Kipsiro tucked behind.

Successive 2100m laps of 6:05, 6:03, 5:59 and 5:58 reduced the leading group to six athletes, always with Komon and Ngatuny pushing hard. In the fight for the European honours, Spain’s reigning European 10,000m silver medallist Chema Martínez enjoyed a ten-second advantage on eight-time European XC champion Sergey Lebid of Ukraine by midway, both way back behind the Africans.

The decisive movement came with the clock reading 28 minutes (1000m left) when Tariku Bekele went to the front for the very first time to unleash a terrific change of speed which only Ngatuny and Kipsiro could maintain. Bekele tried desperately to break away from his pursuers but they managed to remain at his shoulder; when the trio negotiated the final 360º bend (200m to go) Bekele still held the lead but a threatening Kipsiro overtook Ngatuny; it was then that a more than thrilling neck to neck final sprint got underway between both athletes.

Bekele kept his top spot until the last metre but Kipsiro pipped him just on the finish line to clinch a more-than-tight win, both men timed at 30:37 with Bekele having to settle for second again after his 2007 runner-up place behind his older brother.

A joyful Kipsiro said: “Today was my winter opener so I’m delighted to start my season this way; honestly, I didn’t expect to win today since most of my rivals were in very good shape and had already performed several times this cross country campaign. It has been extremely difficult to beat Bekele and I was not sure of my win until I cross the finish line.”

Asked on his plans in the near future, Kipsiro, who finished fourth at the Beijing Olympics in the 5000m explained: “I now come back to Uganda and my next outing will likely be a 10km road race in the United States. I came 13th at last year’s World Cross Country championships so my target for 2009 is to be top-ten in Amman.”

As for Bekele, he seemed a bit disappointed after missing the victory by such a shy margin and confirmed he’s targeting “a couple of indoor races (over 3000m / two miles) in Europe, one of them in Valencia (Spain) at the IAAF permit next 14 February.”

When asked about his brother Kenenisa’s recovery, Tariku declared that he is almost sure that Kenenisa can’t compete neither indoors nor on cross country this season.

Martínez finally got the better from Lebid by 21 seconds, being 13th and 14th respectively.

Kiplagat succeeds, Korikwiang surprises - Women’s race

The women’s event had been billed as a thrilling encounter between newly minted European cross country medallist Hilda Kibet of The Netherlands and the talented Kenyan Florence Kiplagat, who had snatched fifth place at the 2007 Worlds in Mombasa before becoming a mother early last year which hampered her 2008 season.

The 8000m event kicked off cautiously and no less than eight athletes remained on the top with 12 minutes on the clock, all of them African-born except for Portugal’s reigning European silver medallist Jessica Augusto and Hungary’s Aniko Kalovics. Spain’s double European 5000m champion Marta Domínguez - who the night before was named the ‘Spanish female athlete of 2008’ - travelled ten seconds behind.

The pace set mainly by Pauline Korikwiang, a former (2006) World Junior 3000m silver medallist and Kiplagat reduced gradually the size of the leading group to five women - Kibet, Kiplagat, Korikwiang, Kalovics, Augusto and Kenya’s Grace Muriuki.

The closing lap was full of interest as Korikwiang managed to break away from the others with some 1500m left with the rest chasing her in crocodile file headed by Kiplagat. But the latter recovered the 10m she had lost to Korikwiang and overtook her inside the final 600m to claim a clear win timed at 26:14 and a six-second margin over Korikwiang, herself three second ahead of Kibet, who held off the late challenge from Momanyi, to claim the minor place on the podium by two seconds.

Augusto finished as the first European-born woman fifteen seconds in arrears while the local heroine Domínguez finished in ninth after a close battle with France’s Sophie Duarte.

The diminutive Kiplagat commented after the race: “This is my second consecutive win (following her Elgoibar success last Sunday) after my motherhood leave so I’m in the right path to be at the top again in Amman,” the Eldoret-based runner said, before adding: “I’m not planning now more races in Europe and my next appearance will be at the Kenyan trials to be held in Nairobi on 22 February.” Kiplagat has a ten-month daughter named Asha Jelagat.

As for Korikwiang, the long-legged 20-year-old Kenyan seems to be again in shape. Back in 2006, she broke the National Junior 5000m record with an impressive 14:45.98 clocking to her credit.

Emeterio Valiente for the IAAF

Leading Results -

Men (10.8km):
1. Moses Kipsiro (Uganda) 30:37
2. Tariku Bekele (Ethiopia) 30:37
3. Gideon Ngatuny (Kenya) 30:39
4. Moses Mosop (Kenya) 30:45
5. Ayele Abshiro (Ethiopia)  30:49
6. Leonard Komon (Kenya) 31:06
7. Telemariam Mehdi (Eritrea)  31:14
8. Bernard Kipyego (Kenya) 31:20
9.  Ahmed Hassan Abdullah (Qatar) 31:25
10. Leby Matebo (Kenya)  31:28

Women (8km):
1. Florence Kiplagat (Kenya)  26:14
2. Pauline Korikwiang (Kenya)  26:20
3. Hilda Kibet (The Netherlands)  26:23
4. Grace Momanyi (Kenya)  26:25
5. Jessica Augusto (Portugal)  26:29wf
6. Aniko Kalovics (Hungary)  26:45
7. Margaret Muriuki (Kenya) 27:04
8. Ahmed Zemzem (Ethiopia)  27:05
9. Marta Domínguez (Spain)  27:28
10. Sophie Duarte (France) 27:28