Ethiopian distance-running star Muktar Edris won a dramatic men’s 10km race at the 40th edition of the Boclassic, edging three-time winner Imane Merga by 0.2 after a close sprint into the finish-line in front of no fewer than 10,000 enthusiastic spectators who packed the beautiful Walther Square in the centre of Bolzano on Wednesday (31).
While there was an Ethiopian 1-2 in the men’s race, Kenyan athletes filled the top two spots in the women’s 5km race as African 5000m bronze medallist Janet Kisa finished a second ahead of compatriot Peris Jepchirchir.
The men’s race began to heat up at halfway when top Italian runner Stefano La Rosa took the lead ahead of an eight-man group which included Edris, Merga, New Zealand’s Zane Robertson, Olympic 5000m bronze medallist Thomas Longosiwa, 2008 Olympic 5000m bronze medallist Edwin Soi, former European cross-country champion Andrea Lalli, European marathon champion Daniele Meucci, and Ahmed El Mazoury. The lead pack reached half way in 14:54, after which La Rosa moved to the front.
But by the time of the sixth lap, Robertson, who has been living in Kenya for eight years and trains with African runners, was the only non-African runner who managed to keep up with the four favourites: Edris, Merga, Longosiwa and Soi. With a 3:34 split, the five front runners went through the sixth lap in 22:12.
The lead pack was whittled down to four men when four-time Boclassic winner Soi was dropped on the seventh lap. The battle then went down to the wire on the final lap when Edris tried to pull away from Merga near the famous Frog Fountain – the part of the course where the race is usually decided – but the 2011 world cross-country champion responded to his attack.
The two Ethiopians battled it out until the end in a thrilling sprint finish where Edris prevailed by the narrowest of margins, both being given the same finishing time of 29:08. It was redemption for Edris, who lost out in a similarly close finish to Merga in this race two years ago.
“It was a very hard race,” said Edris. “I had to dig deep. It was a good race in preparation for the World Cross Country Championships next March.”
Commonwealth 5000m bronze medallist Robertson was delighted with his unexpected third place in 29:12 ahead of Longosiwa and Soi. “It was a good race to start the new season,” said Robertson, who started running 10 years ago after watching the Olympic Games on television. “I have been living in Africa since 2008. I spent only two weeks in New Zealand to visit my parents. I will return there to run my next race on 26 February.”
Longosiwa finished fourth in 29:27, crossing the line four seconds ahead of Soi.
Kisa ends break-through year on a high
The Kenyan pair of Jepchirchir and Kisa was joined by Ethiopians Alemitu Hawi and Etenesh Diro on the first lap as they pulled away from the chasing group led by Italy’s Margherita Magnani.
Kisa, Jepchirchir and Hawi produced the decisive surge on the second lap when they broke away from steeplechase specialist Diro before going through halfway in 7:58.
On the penultimate lap, Kisa and Jepchirchir opened up a five-metre gap on Hawi, the world junior 5000m silver medallist, before passing the bell in 11:55.
Kisa, who took 15 seconds off her 3000m PB when she clocked 8:32.66 in Brussels, tried to pull away from Jepchirchir – who won in Houilles last Sunday – with 500 metres to go but the latter did not give up.
The race came down to the final sprint when Commonwealth silver medallist Kisa prevailed by one second in 15:50, missing the course record of 15:44 set in 1991 by Germany’s Katrin Wessel when temperatures reached 15°C.
Kisa follows in the footsteps of great Kenyan runners like Tegla Loroupe, Susan Chepkemei, Isabella Ochichi, Vivian Cheruiyot and Sylvia Kibet who have all won the Boclassic in the past.
Hawi took third place in 16:06, while world indoor finalist Margherita Magnani provided some delight for home fans by taking fourth place in 16:29, finishing two seconds ahead of Diro. Rising Italian 1500m star Federica Del Buono finished sixth in 16:33.
Diego Sampaolo for the IAAF
1 Muktar Edris (ETH) 29:08
2 Imane Merga (ETH) 29:08
3 Zane Robertson (NZL) 29:12
4 Thomas Longosiwa (KEN) 29:23
5 Edwin Soi (KEN) 29:27
6 Stefano La Rosa (ITA) 29:35
7 Ahmed El Mazoury (ITA) 29:35
8 Daniele Meucci (ITA) 29:35
9 Andrea Lalli (ITA) 29:54
10 Vasyl Matvichuk (UKR) 30:16
1 Janet Kisa (KEN) 15:50
2 Peris Jepchirchir (KEN) 15:51
3 Alemitu Hawi (ETH) 16:06
4 Margherita Magnani (ITA) 16:29
5 Etenesh Diro (ETH) 16:31
6 Federica Del Buono (ITA) 16:34
7 Silvia Weissteiner (ITA) 16:34
8 Elle Vernon (GBR) 16:38
9 Sonja Roman (SLO) 16:43
10 Giulia Viola (ITA) 16:50