Despite gusting winds reaching 50mph in Dublin on Sunday (14), legendary Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele produced an awesome performance to comfortably defend his title at the SPAR Great Ireland Run, an IAAF Silver Label Road Race.
On a day that did not favour fast times, the multiple World record-holder confidently coped with the conditions to win the 10km race in 28:51, well clear of Ukrainian Sergey Lebid (29:08) and World 10,000m champion Ibrahim Jeilan (29:18).
Lauren Howarth, better known for her performances over shorter distances, claimed the women's crown in a much closer contest to defeat her fellow Britons in 33:36, with defending champion Gemma Steel finishing 13 seconds behind (33:49) and double Olympic finalist Julia Bleasdale in third (33:53).
Bekele maintains undefeated record in Ireland
Bekele has never been beaten on Irish soil. He won the long and short course titles at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in 2002, and last year set an Irish all-comers’ record of 27:49 at the Great Ireland Run.
Today at Phoenix Park he once again stood head-and-shoulders above his rivals. From the first kilometre, the 30-year-old was at the front of the pack alongside Jeilan, the man who succeeded him as World 10,000m champion in 2011.
The pair passed through 2km in 5:52 before Bekele, running conservatively, then stepped up the pace around 6km, taking Jeilan, Lebid and the highly-rated Australian Collis Birmingham well clear of the field, before unleashing his first real change of pace.
The speedy input after 21 minutes of running saw the 5000m and 10,000m World record-holder open a gap of five metres, as Birmingham – who finished eighth at last month’s World Cross Country Championships – was the only opponent brave enough to try to track him down.
But the Australian ultimately paid the price, falling away and looking broken and exhausted after 8km as Bekele relentlessly forged even further ahead in his first race since finishing fourth in the Olympic 10,000m final last summer where he surrendered his crown to Mo Farah.
Indeed Birmingham’s legs became so weary that Lebid flew by him at 9km, followed by Jeilan who also had a second wind, but neither were ever going to catch the world’s greatest track and cross-country athlete who had flown through the marker looking awesome.
“It's fantastic,” said Bekele after crossing the finish line in 28:51. “I am so happy with my performance.”
The multi-World Championships gold medallist is determined to regain his World 10,000m title from Jeilan, who will have a wildcard entry to Moscow this summer. “Now I am slowly, slowly, getting better,” added Bekele. “This year will be a great year for me. In all championships I will do better.”
Howarth surprises older domestic rivals
Lauren Howarth is already enjoying a great start to 2013. In February she won the UK indoor 3000m title before reducing her PB to 8:52.00 at the British Athletics Grand Prix and finishing sixth at the European Indoor Championships. She then represented Britain at the World Cross Country Championships, and she continued her good run of form today in Dublin with an unexpected but fully deserved success in the women’s race where she defeated last year’s winner, Gemma Steel.
Steel, along with Julia Bleasdale, Howarth, Diana Martin from Spain and Ireland’s Linda Byrne, sat comfortably among the lead group who stayed together until the 3km mark.
But just after the half-way point, the former European cross-country bronze medallist made her first tactical move, which was only covered initially by Bleasdale and Howarth. However the experienced Martin forged back into contention after 7km.
With a gap of 20m from the chasing contestants, Steel tried her hardest to break the remaining trio as she put her foot on the accelerator with just over a kilometre remaining, but Howarth wasn’t finished.
The title-holder really piled on the pressure up the very last hill on the course, but Howarth, digging deep, managed to stay with the pre-race favourite before unleashing a tremendous sprint finish for the line.
The 22-year-old, drawing on the speed which is part of her armoury over shorter distances, was neck-and-neck with Steel 600m from the tape before opening a healthy winning lead of 30m in the last 400m.
“I’m really delighted to beat some big names out there,” said Howarth, who turns 23 next Sunday. “Conditions were pretty tough in the wind. Winning fills me confidence for the season ahead.”
The meeting’s inaugural street mile was claimed by Ireland’s No.1 1500m track performer Paul Robinson. He took victory by two seconds in 4:14 ahead of countrymen Eoin Everard and David Harper who recorded 4:18.
David Martin (organisers) for the IAAF
1 Kenenisa Bekele (ETH) 28:51
2 Sergiy Lebid (UKR) 29:08
3 Ibrahim Jeilan (ETH) 29:18
4 Hamid El Mouaziz (BEL) 29:26
5 Collis Birmingham (AUS) 29:30
6 Urige Buta (NOR) 29:40
7 Stephen Scullion (IRL) 30:15
8 Mats Lunders (BEL) 30:28
1 Lauren Howarth (GBR) 33:36
2 Gemma Steel (GBR) 33:49
3 Julia Bleasdale (GBR) 33:53
4 Diana Martin (ESP) 34:03
5 Elena Romagnolo (ITA) 34:19
6 Linda Byrne (IRL) 34:24
7 Elle Baker (GBR) 34:38
8 Emma Clayton (GBR) 35:07