Edinburgh, ScotlandA trademark late burst of acceleration by Kenenisa Bekele secured a hat-trick of BUPA Great Edinburgh International Cross Country titles and avenged his 2007 IAAF World Cross Country defeat at the hands of Zersenay Tadese.
Question marks had been raised over Bekele’s long-held superiority on the country after he abandoned the race in the latter stages of last year’s IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Mombasa last March when Tadese snatched gold.
However, at an icy Scottish capital the ten-time IAAF senior World Cross Country champion delivered a firm swipe at any critics by opening up a gap on the testing climb of Haggis Knowe, to accelerate to victory in the 9.3km test from Tadese and long-time leader Eliud Kipchoge.
For Bekele is was not only confirmation he is back to his best but also an important psychological boost ahead of the 2008 IAAF World Cross Country Championships, which take place at the same Holyrood Park venue on 30 March.
“It was a very different race to Mombasa,” said Bekele of his one-second victory from Tadese which sparked wild celebrations from a large and enthusiastic gathering of Ethiopian supporters.
“It was not a world Cross Country, but it was a very tough race. Kenya has two world-class athletes (Kipchoge and Joseph Ebuya) who are very strong, very tough. It was very important I win this race.”
Asked why he left his bid for glory to the latter stages he admitted: “It was a very fast race, so I left it late.”
Disappointment for Tadese
Adopting unusually cautious tactics because of the ice and frost which covered significant sections of the course, Tadese preferred to shelter in the main pack for much of the race.
However, not even the passionate support of more than 200 Eritrean supporters could lift Tadese, who said: “I’m very disappointed. I felt good before the race.”
Third placed Kipchoge, who finished in the same time as Tadese, was satisfied with his run, which he said would stand him in good stead when he returns to the course for the IAAF World Cross in March.
“I’m happy with the outcome,” said Kipchoge. “The conditions were a little different; cold and slippery, but it was a good experience.”
Joseph Ebuya, 20, finished fourth in the same time as second and third and the 12:51 5000m runner will be lifted by producing such a competitive run against world-class Cross Country rivals.
Kipchoge headed a group of five after the first long lap in the 9.3km race followed by Ebuya, Bekele, Tadese and American Dathan Ritzenhein.
The pattern of the race followed this theme until the beginning of the penultimate lap when Tadese briefly hit the front and stepped on the gas. However, as Ritzenhein briefly dropped off the back of the pack, the Eritrean appeared to slow and Kipchoge regained control of the race.
At the bell a blanket could have been thrown over the four lead African runners with Ritzenhein back in contention a couple of metres adrift.
Tadese was the first to make a positive move rushing to the front in a downhill section at the foot of the Haggis Knowe. However, not for the first time today the strength-sapping - and in places treacherous icy climb - was to prove decisive. Bekele ghosted alongside Tadese before quickly opening up a five-metre lead by the top. Floating down the hill and into the finish area he was simply unstoppable and romped to a fifth overall win in the race.
Burka defends decisively - Women’s race
In the women’s race, Gelete Burka also secured a hat-trick of titles as she cruised to a 15-second win from IAAF World Junior Cross Country champion Linet Masai.
Burka kicked ahead on the first of two long laps at Haggis Knowe and the Ethiopian powered clear of her rivals for the most decisive win of the day.
Burka’s accomplishments in Edinburgh mark her out as a serious contender for gold when she returns to the Scottish capital in March. A winner of the IAAF World Cross Country short course title in 2006, the Ethiopian struggled last summer with an Achilles tendon injury and missed three months training but she showed she has fully recovered with a blistering run.
“The cold is different,” she said diplomatically of the icy weather she faced in Edinburgh. “The injury is okay, and it is good to be a three-time winner.”
The feature of the first long lap was the confident and assured performance by British teenager Stephanie Twell. The European Junior Cross Country champion briefly led the field halfway up Haggis Knowe on the first of two long laps, but by the bottom of the hill the pattern of the race was decided. Burka accelerated ahead and opened up a ten metre gap on Masai with an inspired Twell in a tussle for third with Vivian Cheruiyot of Kenya, the IAAF World 5000m silver medallist.
With Burka secure in first and Masai a clear second the crowd were treated to a terrific finish for third with Cheruiyot, who was struggling with a chest infection, staving off a late sprint from Twell.
Baddeley takes narrow win in 4.4Km contest
Earlier, in a largely domestic 4.4km men’s race, the 2007 IAAF World Championship 1500m finalist Andy Baddeley secured victory with a powerful late burst. His fellow Brit Andy Vernon opened a gap on the downhill stretch of Haggis Knowe and appeared set for an unlikely win but he was denied as Baddeley caught him in the final few strides.
Steve Landells of the IAAF
Men’s Race -
1. K Bekele (ETH) 27:42
2. Z Tadese (ERI) 27:43
3. E Kipchoge (KEN) 27:43
4. J Ebuya (KEN) 27:43
5. D Ritzenhein (USA) 27:56
6. J Torres (USA) 28:14
Women’s Race -
1. G Burka (ETH) 19:58
2. L Masai (KEN) 20:13
3. V Cheruiyot (KEN) 20:34
4. S Twell (GBR) 20:34
5. A Kalovics (HUN) 20:38
6. L Yelling (GBR) 20:40