Tariku Bekele winning the 2005 Cross Internacional Valle de Llodio (Pedro Agustín) © Copyright
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T. Bekele, Kalovics excel in Llodio

Llodio, Spain  Ethiopia’s Tariku Bekele and Hungary’s Aniko Kalovics were the commanding victors in the 22nd edition of the ‘Cross Internacional Valle de Llodio’, the second leg of the current IAAF Cross Country permit season, which took place today (27) on a cold and cloudy day on a quite muddy circuit.

Men - T. Bekele captures win effortlessly

The younger brother of Kenenisa Bekele proved to be in stellar form to grab an undisputed win over Uganda’s Boniface Kiprop. Indeed, the manner of his win suggested he could have run much faster if needed. The pair of young and talented Africans took the lead immediately, and minute-by-minute the lead pack was whittled down significantly. With eight minutes on the clock only the Kenyan pair of Abraham Chebii and Boniface Songok, along with Portugal’s Fernando Silva still looked to be in striking range.

Midway through the 9.2km race, Bekele and Kiprop took turns at the front, with Silva four seconds behind and Chebii another six seconds adrift. Surprisingly, Silva managed to catch the two leaders as the trio approached the final 2.3km lap.  Bekele made his decisive move with less than a kilometre remaining, with Kiprop and Silva dropped within seconds by Bekele’s devastating turn of speed.

Within less than 500 metres, Bekele built an impressive ten-second margin over his pursuers and romped home in 29:29 while Kiprop and Silva fiercely battled for the runner-up position, with the former prevailing by mere tenths of a second. Well back, Chebii and Songok completed a quality top-five, while Juan Carlos de la Ossa, the two- time silver medallist at the European Cross Country Championships, led the Spanish contingent, finishing sixth.

“To be honest the race has not been difficult for me despite of the mud,” said Bekele, who is still just 18. “I’m training well alongside my brother Kenenisa and hope to perform well at the World Cross Country Championships in Fukuoka where I will likely contest the short race. I would like to comeback to Spain in January to take part in more cross country races,” Bekele added, who is still eligible for the junior race in Fukuoka. It warrants a mention that he had a long trip from Japan to Spain this weekend, after he covered the third leg (5Km) at the Chiba Ekiden Marathon relay race last Wednesday.

Said Silva after his solid outing: “OK, I have beaten all the best Spaniards today but I don’t want to think of a medal in the Europeans,” adding that he liked running in the muddy conditions. “There are so many strong athletes such as Sergiy Lebid, De la Ossa or Alberto García, and I prefer not to run under pressure there.”

Women - Kalovics defeats Jepchumba and becomes hot favourite for Tilburg

In the absence of Ethiopia’s Meselech Melkamu – a late minute withdrawal – Kenyan Rose Jepchumba seemed to be the clear favourite, thanks to her ninth place in the long race at the last World Cross in France, and more recently, after her solid win last Sunday in Soria. The 25-year-old Kenyan dictated a brisk pace from the start and before the first kilometre point, only Hungary’s 2003 European XC bronze medallist Aniko Kalovics was able to match her pace.

The chasing pack included the crème of the European cross country racing - the reigning champion and runner-up, Britain’s Hayley Yelling and Justyna Bak respectively, plus Portugal’s Ines Monteiro, fresh from a second place in Oeiras last Sunday.

Jepchumba’s attempts to drop Kalovics were not to be successful, and the Hungarian even opened a slight 20m margin over Jepchumba at the beginning of the last lap, but Jepchumba caught her shortly afterwards, setting up an exciting final kilometre. Kalovics surged away with 500m remaining, leaving Jepchumba with a more-than- impressive ease. The winner was timed 21:02, 13 seconds ahead of Jepchumba, while Bak won the tight battle for third another ten seconds back, ahead of Monteiro, Kenyan Beatrice Chepchuma and the BritonYelling.

The 28-year-old Hungarian, whose track credentials include 15:10.21 for the 5000m and 31:40.31 for 10,000m, explained: “I don’t like this kind of muddy races as sometimes it was not easy to keep my balance, but I knew that I am in very good form,” said the delighted Kalovics, the first non-African winner here in five years. “My target in Tilburg at the Europeans next 11 December is to clinch a medal. After that, I plan to compete in Brussels XC permit and I will possibly return to Spain in early January.”

Today’s was Kalovics’s second consecutive victory this winter season following her victory in Tilburg on 13 November. Her advantage today over Bak (23 seconds), Monteiro (25 seconds) and Yelling (28 seconds) suggests she should be regarded as a real gold medal threat in the upcoming European Cross Country Championships, to be held in two weeks time in Tilburg, The Netherlands.

Emeterio Valiente for the IAAF

Results

Men (9210m course) -
1. Tariku Bekele (Eth)29:29
2. Boniface Kiprop (Uga) 29:39
3. Fernando Silva (Por) 29:40
4. Abraham Chebii (Ken) 30:16
5. Boniface Songok (Ken) 30:26
6. Juan Carlos de la Ossa (Esp) 30:37
7. Ricardo Serrano (Esp) 30:37
8. Vicente Capitán (Esp) 30:38
9. Javier Guerra (Esp) 30:41
10. José Manuel Martínez (Esp) 30:44

Women (5630m course) -
1. Aniko Kalovics (Hun) 21:02
2. Rose Jepchumba (Ken) 21:15
3. Justyna Bak (Pol) 21:25
4. Ines Monteiro (Por) 21:27
5. Beatriz Chepchumba (Ken) 21:28
6. Hayley Yelling (Gbr) 21:30
7. Rosa Morató (Esp) 21:34
8. Diana Martín (Esp) 21:50
9. Sonia Bejarano (Esp) 22:03
10. Monica Rosa (Por) 22:07