Kenya’s Alice Aprot and Bahrain’s Aweke Ayalew triumphed at the Antrim International Cross Country in competitive races at the IAAF Cross Country Permit meeting on Sunday (16).
Biting cold and muddy underfoot conditions greeted the runners in Greenmount for the annual international with an expected duel between Great Britain’s Kate Avery and Ireland’s Fionnuala McCormack in the women’s 5.8km race never really materialising.
McCormack ended up leading in the early stages by virtue of the fact of the conditions rather than a pre-race plan.
"In the first lap it kind of just happened," said the Irish woman on hitting the front on the rhythm-breaking course. "I think the Africans thought they could get around the mud but realised they couldn’t. That’s how I ended up at the front because I just went through it."
But the two-time European cross-country champion couldn’t hang on to the lead. Despite not feeling comfortable in the cold conditions, Aprot was an impressive victor in the end, winning in 18:05. Bahrain’s Mimi Belete finished second in 18:09, just two seconds slower than her winning time from 2014.
Aprot, the All-Africa Games 10,000m champion, was happy with her performance and this followed on from her course record at the Cross Campaccio in San Giorgio Su Legnano earlier in the month. “The race was very competitive,” she said. “It was muddy and I’m happy for being the winner of today. The next race for me is to prepare for the trials (over 10,000m) for the Olympics.”
McCormack had the consolation of avenging her defeat to Avery last week at the Great Edinburgh X Country. They finished third and fourth respectively in 18:13 and 18:16.
“This was definitely real cross country today,” said McCormack, who had drifted back to fourth for the middle part of the race. “It was little hills but tough ones and the muck was better than a long time that I’ve seen it. It was good. It would have been nice to have a bit of a kick at the end because you could see people struggling in front. But I think on a course like that when someone gets a gap, even though you can see them struggling, you’re struggling yourself to get through the mud.”
Avery couldn't find her rhythm on the day but was reasonably pleased with her fourth-place finish and will now target the British Olympic 10,000m trials in Highgate in May. “That was tough,” she said. “I just couldn’t get into the rhythm. I’d close the gap but then it would grow again. The mud was difficult and it was just too hard to close the gap by the time I got to the muddier parts on the camber.”
Short but sweet victory for Ayalew
The men’s race was shortened by a lap due to the course cutting up, but it didn’t dampen the excitement with Bahrain’s Aweke Ayalew winning a sprint to the line ahead of Uganda’s two-time former winner Thomas Ayeko and Kenya’s Timothy Cheruiyot.
“I’m happy,” said Ayalew of his win in 21:25 over the adjusted 7.2km course. When asked of the tough conditions, he smiled and said “look” gesturing towards his body covered in mud. “It was tough and cold,” he added with a laugh, content with his victory.
Ayeko was happy with his performance, finishing second in the same time as Ayalew, but was left frustrated at missing out on his third win in Antrim. “I’m happy but with better conditions next year I think I can come back and win,” said the Ugandan.
Cheruiyot, who finished seventh in the 1500m at the IAAF World Championships Beijing 2015, was happy with his finish on his first visit to the UK. The Kenyan middle-distance specialist finished two seconds adrift of the leading pair in 21:27.
His next goal is the Prisons Cross Country Championships in Kenya followed by their national trials with a place up for grabs at the African Cross Country Championships.
Feidhlim Kelly for the IAAF