The Kenyan pair of Jairus Birech and Mercy Cherono captured victories at the 31th ‘Cross Internacional de Itálica’ – the seventh leg of this season’s IAAF Cross Country Permit series – on Sunday (20).
However, they succeeded in a very different ways. The 20-year-old Birech outsprinted Emmanuel Bett in a frantic final few metres, while Cherono destroyed any opposition from the midway point to win by the handsome margin of 41 seconds over her compatriot Irene Chebet Cheptai.
Birech surprises favourites Kipruto and Bett
Held in gentle showers which began just prior to the gun, the men’s 10.8km contest opened at a pedestrian rhythm as an extremely large heading group went through the first 2km circuit in 6:45, which was even slower than Mercy Cherono’s brisk last lap!
A faster second lap witnessed the Kenyan trio of William Malel Sitonik, Conseslus Kipruto and Jairus Birech pushing hard at the front as the leading group was reduced to seven men by halfway.
The penultimate lap proved to be decisive as Birech, Kipruto and Bett managed to escape from Malel Sitonoik, Uganda’s Thomas Ayeko, and Eritrea’s Amanuel Mesel. By the bell, eight seconds separated the two three-man groups with Eritrea’s Kiflom Sium and Spain’s Javier Guerra another four seconds back.
Before the final kilometre, the pre-race favourite Kipruto began to lose ground and the it became a two-horse race between Birech and Bett with neither prepared to settle quietly for second place.
Just prior to the last turn, Birech gained a couple of metres on Bett and last year’s world’s fastest man in the world over 10,000m was unable to catch his younger compatriot. At the tape, the victorious Birech was timed at 31:56 while Bett was the runner up in a major Spanish cross country race for the second successive week, crossing the line one second behind.
A solitary Kipruto completed a classy podium 19 seconds adrift the winner while Mesel, who was second in Amorebieta two weeks ago, confirmed his fine shape to take fourth, just ahead of the 2011 World youth 3000m champion Malel Sitonik.
After the race, the 8:03.43 steeplechaser Birech seemed slightly surprised at his victory. “But it’s a really important win for me ahead of two in-form mates like Emmanuel and Conseslus."
The trio will all now return home to prepare for the Kenyan national cross country championships and World Cross Country Championships trials on 16 February; with 2012 World Junior Championships 3000m Steeplechase gold medallist Kipruto aiming to contest the junior race in Bydgoszcz, Poland, on 24 March.
Cherono leads another Kenyan clean sweep
Like the men’s race, the women’s 8km race kicked off in a leisurely fashion as Cherono, a former World junior champion both on the track and at cross country, ran effortlessly in second or third place within a large group over the early stages. However, she decided to step up the pace just before the halfway point before pulling away over the final two laps.
Her change of speed could only initially be covered by her fellow Kenyans Irine Chebet Cheptai and Magdalene Masai, along with Spain’s Alessandra Aguilar, a 2:26:58 marathoner.
As Cherono left the others behind just after the start of the third of four 2km laps, Cheptai, Masai and Aguilar then ran in crocodile file for the rest of the race.
By the bell, Cherono led comfortably by 15 seconds from Cheptai, herself three seconds ahead of Masai while Aguilar was fourth, another four seconds in arrears but beginning to be threatened by her compatriot Diana Martín.
Appropriately wearing the bib number one, Cherono dramatically increased her advantage on the final lap to win absolutely unopposed in 26:48.
Cheptai and Masai were separated by 16 seconds in second and third place but there was an entertaining domestic battle between Aguilar and Martín to be the top local runner, the latter finally managed to overtake the former 500 metres before the tape and finish fourth.
Emeterio Valiente for the IAAF
1 Jairus Birech (KEN) 31:56
2 Emmanuel Bett (KEN) 31:57
3 Conseslus Kipruto (KEN) 32:15
4 Amanuel Mesel (ERI) 32:19
5 William Malel Sitonik (KEN) 32:24
6 Thomas Ayeko (UGA) 32:27
7 Kiflom Sium (ERI) 32:31
8 Javier Guerra (ESP) 32:36
9 Anouar Dabab (MAR) 32:55
10 Daniel Santacruz (ESP) 33:03
1 Mercy Cherono (KEN) 26:48
2 Irene Chebet Cheptai (KEN) 27:29
3 Magdalane Masai (KEN) 27:45
4 Diana Martín (ESP) 27:52
5 Alessandra Aguilar (ESP) 27:59
6 Cristina Jordán (ESP) 28:29
7 Raquel Gómez (ESP) 28:33
8 Sonia Bejarano (ESP) 28:53
9 Marisa Casanueva (ESP) 29:11
10 Sonia Plaza (ESP) 29:22