Uganda’s teen phenomenon Jacob Kiplimo and Kenya’s world steeplechase record holder Beatrice Chepkoech captured commanding victories at the Cross Internacional de Itálica in Santiponce, near the Spanish city of Seville, the sixth leg of this season’s IAAF Cross Country Permit series on Sunday (20).
Held on a pleasant and dry afternoon with the temperature about 19C, the men’s 9.9km event didn’t kick off particularly fast as a large pack covered the opening two kilometres in 5:50, led by Bahrain’s Albert Rop while the main favourites ran conservatively in these early stages.
The following 1.95km circuit took a faster 5:38 with eight men still in the heading group which included Rop, the Ugandan trio of Kiplimo, world 10,000m silver medallist Joshua Cheptegei and Mande Bushendich, Kenya’s Vincent Rono, Morocco’s world steeplechase silver medallist Soufiane El Bakkali and the Spanish pair of Toni Abadía and David Palacio who were fresh from respective performances of 7:47:60 an 7:54:33 over 3000m indoors last Friday in Valencia. Morocco’s 2012 Olympic 1500m bronze medallist Abdelaati Iguider dropped out during the second lap.
At halfway Abadía moved to the front and shared the lead for a while with the top Africans but shortly afterwards it was the teen phenomenon Kiplimo who injected a brisker pace which could only be followed by Cheptegei, Rop, Rono and the long-legged El Bakkali.
Kiplimo’s relentless rhythm – a frantic 5:23 for the fourth loop – soon paid off and he only had Cheptegei for company some 18 minutes into the race and they built a huge margin on Rop, Rono and El Bakkali.
Defending champion Cheptegei, who was aiming to match his fellow Ugandan Matthew Kisorio’s achievement of back-to-back titles (2008 and 2009) could only stay with Kiplimo for four minutes as his younger compatriot unleashed a devastating kick with the clock reading 22:10 to open a sizeable margin on him already inside the closing lap. To the astonishment of the assembled crowd, Kiplimo effectively ended the race in a matter of seconds as Cheptegi proved to be unable to follow in his footsteps.
A stellar Kiplimo even smiled to the crowd during the last lap, his ease suggesting he still had another gear if necessary, while Rop began to threaten Cheptegei’s runner-up place way back.
The closing lap only took 5:15 for the 18-year-old leader and he romped home unopposed to claim his fourth victory of the current IAAF Cross Country Permit series and avenge his defeat from 12 months ago. Cheptegei managed to keep Rop at bay to take the runner-up spot.
“I decided to run conservatively for the first half of the race, then I changed the pace and felt great until the end,” said an all-smiles Kiplimo. The Ugandan rising star confirmed he will contest the senior race at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships Aarhus 2019 on 30 March, even though he would be young enough to defend his U20 title.
Asked about his chances of breaking the world 10,000m record on the track after his impressive 26:41 road performance in Madrid, he said: “why not? That’s a long-term goal in my career.”
The 22-year-old Cheptegei said: “I have come here after a one-week stint in Monte Gordo (Portugal); I know I’m only at about 85% at the moment but I’ll now return to Uganda and hope to be at my best for the World Cross.”
Right from the gun, Kenya’s Chepkoech took command of the race. She set such a quick pace that after just one minute, only four athletes – Uganda’s Commonwealth 10,000m champion Stella Chesang, Turkey’s multiple European champion Yasemin Can, Ethiopia’s Gete Alemayehu and Kenya’s Hellen Ekarake Lobun – were able to live with her rhythm.
Shortly after covering the opening kilometre, the 27-year-old Chepkoech was already alone in the lead while Chesang, who beat Chepkoech last Sunday in Elgoibar, and Can ran together way back.
At about the third kilometre, Chesang – a training partner of Cheptegei in Kapchorwa – got rid of the Turk and so the podium positions appeared to be decided at a relatively early stage of the race.
Taking advantage of a course that suited her much better than the tough Elgoibar race last weekend, Chepkoech increased her lead with each lap. Some 15 minutes into the race and with two 1.95km loops remaining, the IAAF Diamond League steeplechase champion had a 15-second advantage over Chesang, herself 10 seconds clear of Can thanks a brisk 6:02 lap. By then Britain’s 2012 European U23 cross-country champion Jess Piasecki was the top European, 12 seconds clear of Spain’s Trihas Gebre.
Although Chepkoech’s speed decreased over the final two laps (6:07 and 6:13), the Kenyan’s lead continued to grow while Chesang and Can were comfortably in second and third without being threatened.
Chepkoech crossed the line 34 seconds ahead of Chesang and a huge 1:04 before cross-country specialist Can.
Further down the field, Gebre overtook Piasecki midway through the final lap to cross the finish line 10 seconds ahead the Briton.
“I liked the race and the weather,” said Chepkoech. “The course may appear like a track to spectators but it had several ups and downs. That’s fine for me, though, as I’m a steeplechaser.”
Emeterio Valiente for the IAAF
1 Jacob Kiplimo (UGA) 27:48
2 Joshua Cheptegei (UGA) 28:04
3 Albert Rop (BRN) 28:06
4 Vincent Rono (KEN) 28:14
5 Soufiane El Bakkali (MAR) 28:26
6 Mande Bushendich (UGA) 28:28
7 David Palacio (ESP) 28:49
8 Toni Abadía (ESP) 28:50
9 Adel Mechaal (ESP) 29:06
10 Javier Guerra (ESP) 29:07
1 Beatrice Chepkoech (KEN) 28:01
2 Stella Chesang (UGA) 28:35
3 Yasemin Can (TUR) 29:04
4 Hellen Lobun (KEN) 29:10
5 Gete Alemayehu (ETH) 29:49
6 Trihas Gebre (ESP) 29:57
7 Jess Piasecki (GBR) 30:07
8 Verity Ockenden (GBR) 30:11
9 Esther Chebet (UGA) 30:48
10 Irene Sánchez-Escribano (ESP) 30:50