An unheralded 20yearold Wilson Kiprop from Kenya held off his compatriots Peter Muriuki and Richard Matelong, the 2007 World 3000m Steeplechase bronze medallist, in a very close finish in the 31st edition of the Vallagarina EAA Cross Country race near Rovereto. The race was held on a cloudy and cold day.
Catherine Kirui from Kenya beat a strong Italian opposition led by Silvia Weissteiner, 2007 European Indoor 3000m bronze medallist to win the women's contest.
A leading pack made up of three Kenyans, Wilson Kiprop, Peter Muriuki, Richard Matelong, Uganda’s Wilson Businei, Abraham Adhanom from Eritrea, and Jamel Chatbi of Morocco opened up a lead on the rest of the field after two laps. However, Chatbi, a cross country specialist based in Northern Italy lost ground during the third lap so leaving a group of five up-front.
With two laps to go the three Kenyans, Kiprop, Muriuki and Matelong, upped the pace once more dropping their remaining two rivals. Adhanom was the first to fade away and ended up sixth, while Businei, who was fourth at the 2006 World Road Running Championships, was finally dropped but ultimately held on well for fourth place.
Of the leading trio it was Muriuki who threw down the gauntlet first during the last lap but Kiprop was able to respond quickly on the uphill section of the difficult Vallagarina course.
Kiprop, who holds a half-marathon PB of 62:50, launched his decisive kick in the final straight at the end of a hard-fought 9.5km race to hold off Muriuki by just one second. Matelong was three seconds more adrift in third.
Kiprop, who is from Eldoret, confirmed - “This was the first time I have competed outside Kenya. I was freezing. This race was a challenge because it was cold.”
Italian cross country specialist Stefano Scaini, 2001 European Junior bronze medallist, finished strongly in the final lap and finished fifth ahead of the fading Adhanom.
The women’s 5.5km race featured a battle between expereinced Kenyan Catherine Kirui, a very young runner from Eritrea, Amleset Tewelde (born in 1989), and some of the best Italian distance runners - Silvia Weissteiner, Renate Rungger and Agnes Tschurtschenthaler and Marzena Mikalska.
Kirui, who won an international race in Oristano in Sardinia in mid-December and finished fourth in the Campaccio in San Giorgio su Legnano last week (5 Jan), opened a solid gap on Weissteiner and Tewelde during the third lap.
The 31-year-old Kenyan, who was a fifth place finisher in 2005 World XC long race, continued to push the pace,and with her smooth running she opened up a huge gap on the chasing group. She established a margin of 25 seconds which she managed to defend until the end.
“I decided to push the pace after two laps because the race was too slow. I liked the course because it was similar to those I am used to when I train in Kenya,” said Kirui.
Weissteiner seemed fully recovered from the bout of flu which forced her to miss the European Cross Country Championships in Toro. The Italian secured second place finishing 15 seconds behind Kurui.
“I feel well after suffering from a bout of flu in December. I am preparing for the indoor season. I am planning to run a 3000 metres race in Stuttgart on 2 February before the World Indoor Championships in Valencia”, said Weissteiner.
Surprisingly it was Federica Dal Ri who took third place holding off 3000m steeplechaser Agnes Tschurtschenthaler in a strong finish.
Diego Sampaolo for the IAAF
Results from the Vallagarina
Men (9.5 km):
1. Wilson Kiprop (Kenya) 26:11
2. Peter Muriuki (Kenya) 26:12
3. Richard Matelong (Kenya) 26:15
4. Wilson Businei (Uganda) 26:29
5. Stefano Scaini (Italy) 26:35
6. Adhanom Abraha (Eritrea) 26:42
7. Gabriele De Nard (Italy) 26:44
8. Stefano La Rosa (Italy) 27:00
9. Jamel Chatbi (Morocco) 27:12
10. Benhari Mokhtar (France) 27:17
Women (5.5 km):
1. Catherine Kirui (Kenya) 19:26
2. Silvia Weissteiner (Italy) 19:41
3. Federica Dal Ri (Italy) 19:45
4. Agnes Tschurtschenthaler (Italy)19:45
5. Renate Rungger (Italy) 19:48
6. Amleset Tewelde (Eritrea) 19:56
7. Marzena Michalska (Italy) 19:59
8. Brigitta Tusai (Hungary) 20:26