Kenya’s reigning World Cross Country silver medallist Paul Tanui and Ethiopia’s Wude Ayalew Yimer grabbed their respective victories at the ‘69th Cross Internacional Juan Muguerza’ in Elgoibar, Spain, on Sunday (22).
Conditions varied wildly on the afternoon, with the day beginning with rain, then turning cloudy then finally sunny by the time of the men’s race.
The line-up assembled was arguably the strongest since 2003 when Ethiopia’s Kenenisa Bekele took the win. Today, the Kenyan armada included the reigning World XC Junior champion Geoffrey Kipsang – fresh from a brilliant victory in the Seville permit last weekend – the 2008 World XC silver medallist Leonard Komon, Paul Tanui and the still 18-year-old Geoffrey Kirui, fourth in Seville last Sunday.
In addition, Elgoibar offered a genuine day of Cross Country with a slight rain, a tough circuit and a knowledgeable crowd – one of the few in Spain where tickets are required to witness the event live.
Men’s race – Tanui out-sprints Kipsang
The contest opened at a reasonable pace, the first kilometre reached in 2:54 with the Kenyan pair of Tanui and Kipsang in the lead. Another kilometre covered under the 3:00 barrier was enough to reduce the main group to five units - the four Kenyans plus Ethiopia’s Humegaw Mesfin.
The following 2.1Km lap took 6:17, with Tanui and Kipsang taking the pacing duties and Komon plus Kirui just behind them. Some 19 minutes into the race Komon, the three-time victor here, began to falter for the surprise of the spectators and the podium places became clear in favour of Tanui, Kipsang and Kirui.
Spain’s Javier Guerra, a fine sixth at last month’s XC Europeans, travelled in fifth by then also behind Mesfin but surprisingly ahead of Komon. Another 6:19 lap left Kirui behind and the race became a tough battle between Tanui and Kipsang. They had built a huge 15-second advantage on Kirui by the bell.
The closing loop was more thrilling as the 21-year-old Tanui’s relentless front running seemed not to be enough to leave Kipsang behind and so a fascinating sprint finish was in the making.
As usual the finish line was place inside the track and it seemed for a while that the 19-year-old Kispang would overtake Tanui over the closing 100 metres but Tanui bravely held off the challenge of his younger countryman to snatch a narrow win in 32:25 while Kipsang was given the same time.
Such was last lap’s frantic pace that Kirui, who completed a classy podium, finished 39(!) seconds adrift but himself 17 clear of Mesfin. Guerra took fifth and Komon had to settle for sixth on this occasion, 1:23 behind the winner. However, Komon confirmed that he would try to break the World Half Marathon record in The Netherlands next March.
A joyful Tanui said, “I knew I’m in good form, even being my first cross country season, but even so it has been an extremely hard win.”
Women's race - Family affair for the Ayalew sisters
The women’s 6.624Km contest also offered a quality field comprising three top-ten athletes from last March’s World Cross Country Championships in Punta Umbría in the guise of the Kenyan pair of Priscah Jepleting Cherono (5th) and Pauline Korikwiang (7th) plus the in-form Ethiopian Wude Ayalew Yimer (6th), a creditable third in Seville one week ago. Her sister Hiwot Ayalew, fourth in Seville, was also in contention.
The race kicked off quite conservatively with Spain’s Diana Martín as the early leader. The opening kilometre was covered in a slow 3:27 time with the Africans running quietly in the middle of the pack.
It was the former World Junior XC champion Korikwiang who took charge of the race some five minutes into the race. Her change of rhythm was only resisted by the Ayalew sisters, while Jepleting lost ground gradually.
The key movement came with the clock reading 13:20 when the 2009 World 10,000m bronze medallist Wude Yimer broke away with incredible ease from her younger sister Hiwot and Korikwiang. By the bell, Ayalew had a six-second margin on Hiwot and a nine-second advantage over Korikwiang.
There were no remarkable changes over the last lap and the 24-year-old Ethiopian romped home unopposed in 22:39 while Hiwot secured her runner-up place from Korikwiang, a lonesome third.
“The circuit has been tough but I felt very strong throughout. I’m especially happy since I came second here four years ago and managed to win today at last. My next big target is to make the Ethiopian team for the Olympics over the 10,000m but the rivalry will be huge.”
Emeterio Valiente for the IAAF
Leading Results -
1. Paul Tanui (Kenya) 32:25
2. Geoffrey Kipsang (Kenya) 32:25
3. Geoffrey Kirui (Kenya) 33:04
4. Humegaw Mesfin (Ethiopia) 33:21
5. Javier Guerra (Spain) 33:29
6. Leonard Komon (Kenya) 33:48
7. Ricardo Serrano (Spain) 33:53
8. Youseff Aakou (Spain) 34:07
9. Jonathan Taylor (Great Britain) 34:19
10. Jose Rocha (Portugal) 34:26
1. Wude Ayalew Yimer (Ethiopia) 22:29
2. Hiwot Ayalew (Ethiopia) 22:35
3. Pauline Korikwiang (Kenya) 22:49
4. Priscah Jepleting (Kenya) 23:10
5. Leonor Carneiro (Portugal) 23:18
6. Diana Martín (Spain) 23:27
7. Gema Barrachina (Spain) 23:30
8. Jessica Sparke (England)) 23:37
9. Roxana Barca(Romania) 23:38
10. Sonia Bejarano (Spain) 23:45