Kenya’s Linet Masai and John Mwangangi were the strongest athletes in the battle against the northern headwind in the Dam tot Damloop, a point-to-point IAAF Silver Label Road Race over 10 miles between Amsterdam and Zaandam.
For Masai it was a good test before she starts the cross-country season, while Mwangangi will be back in Amsterdam next month for the marathon.
Masai, who won this race in 2009 in 50:39, didn’t enter the race as the favourite. This year she had to face Olympic marathon champion Tiki Gelana and 2010 Damloop winner Hilda Kibet of the Netherlands, who were supposed to be in a better shape.
Since winning the world 10,000m title in 2009 and taking three successive silver medals at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships between 2009 and 2011, Masai’s progress had stalled.
“I had a major calf injury, that played an imported role in the last two years,” Masai explained after crossing the line in 53:09. “I had to take a long rest of two months in the beginning of this year and since then I’m building up again.”
It was Gelana, however, who led the race in the first kilometres through a long tunnel. Masai and Kibet kept up with the Ethiopian, but shortly after 5km (16:16) Masai took the lead and none of the other women could follow her.
After passing 10km in 32:58 and 15km in 49:30, Masai finished in 53:09. Gelana, who is preparing for the Yokohama Women’s Marathon in November, was a distant second in 53:57.
“It’s good enough for now,” said Kibet, who finished third in 54:25. “I had to take a break in the spring, because I was too tired after years of training and lots of races. Now I’m fit again, physically and mentally, and I hope for a good cross country-season.”
The men’s race was a tough one. Starting 6:04 minutes behind the women – the difference between the course records – they had to chase Masai in the hunt for the overall winner’s prize.
Kenya’s Gideon Kipketer tried to break away in the opening stages, sprinting away from the leading group several times. With Kipketer’s energy finally fading, Ethiopia’s Kinde Atanaw was speeding up.
Passing 5km in 14:02 and 10km in 28:26, the pace was solid as defending champion Nguse Amlosom of Eritrea and John Mwangangi tried to keep up with the two youngsters.
Peter Kirui, who finished third last year, was also in contention and the lead group was aware of the fact that the strong northern headwind would play a big role between 10km and 14km in the open field between Amsterdam and Zaandam.
Arriving in Zaandam, where a big crowd of spectators were cheering the leaders and the 45,000 runners behind them, Mwangangi, Amlosom and Atelaw left Masai behind, passing 15km in 42:40.
The finish came down to a sprint between two former winners, but this time Mwangangi had the edge over Amlosom. He kicked with 500 metres to go and left the rest behind.
“I’m preparing for a marathon and because of all the endurance training, I’m not as fast as I used to be,” said Mwangangi. “But in the first part of the race I could just stay near the back of the leading group to save my energy. That helped me out at the finish.”
In 12th, Khalid Choukoud was the top Dutch finisher. “I wanted to keep up with the leaders as long as I could, but already in the beginning of the race, the pace was incredible with kilometres of 2:40 and 2:41,” said Choukoud. “That’s too much for me at this moment, so I decided to be wise, choosing my own pace.”
Cors van den Brink for the IAAF
1 John Mwangangi (KEN) 45:45
2 Nguse Amlosom (ERI) 45:47
3 Kinde Atelaw (ETH) 45:52
4 Josphat Bett (KEN) 46:22
5 Peter Kirui (KEN) 46:33
6 Gideon Kipketer (KEN) 46:36
7 Fentahun Hunegnaw (ETH) 46:37
8 Arne Gabius (GER) 47:00
9 Joshua Cheptegei (UGA) 47:33
10 Zewudu Hailu (ETH) 47:57
1 Linet Masai (KEN) 53:09
2 Tiki Gelana (ETH) 53:57
3 Hilda Kibet (NED) 54:25
4 Almensch Belete (BEL) 56:14
5 Adero Nyakisi (UGA) 56:32
6 Veerle Dejaeghere (BEL) 56:33
7 Kim Dillen (NED) 57:14
8 Jamie van Lieshout (NED) 57:25
9 Miranda Boonstra (NED) 58:02
10 Patty den Ouden (NED) 58:07