Enyew Mekonnen and Enatnesh Almirew clinched the senior men’s and women’s senior titles, respetively, at the 35th Jan Meda International Cross Country, which doubles as the Ethiopian national championships, at the Jan Meda race course in Addis Ababa on Sunday (25).
This year’s event, which saw the absence of the country’s top distance running talents due to commitments to run in other championships and spring road races, served as the qualifying race for the 5th African Cross Country Championships scheduled to take place in Chlef, Algeria, next month.
Unheralded Mekonnen triumphs in dominant victory
An inexperienced field of runners was given a boost with the late hour news that world 5000m champion Muktar Edris would contest the race. The 22-year old saw Jan Meda as a chance to redeem himself after a winless cross country season at home and abroad.
Things started well for Edris, who took to the front early on and at one point stretched his lead to some 50 metres. But his early ambitions began to fade as early as the third kilometre when he was passed by Leykun Birhan. While Birhan kept up the pace at the head of the group, Edris continued to fade away as droves of challengers easily made up the ground on his early lead.
At the six-kilometre mark, it was former world junior 10,000m bronze medallist Hunegnaw Mesfin who took his turn at the head of pack. He maintained his lead for another one-kilometre lap before he too was overtaken by Enyew Mekonnen, who clawed his way from fifth into the lead. The Sidama Buna runner continued to stretch his lead and stopped the clock at 31:01, slowing down towards the end to celebrate his victory.
“The first two laps made me think like, 'Oh, this is not my day’,” Mekonnen said. "It was a very fast race. Later, the pace became normal. I felt like I was strong enough to finish with a medal. Winning in Jan meda is big [for me]."
Alamirew takes narrow victory in women’s 10km
Unlike the men’s race, the senior women ran a slow pace for the first four kilometres. At the halfway point, the starting group was reduced to 11 with Shasho Insermu and Rehima Tusa exchanging the lead and Enatnesh Almirew, who knows what it takes to win in Jan Meda, following about 50 metres behind. Alamirew’s economical run paid off when she launched a blistering kick in the final 800 metres pulling Gete Alemayehu and Liyish Kassaye with her before stopping the clock at 35:32. She added another Jan Meda medal to her growing collection following a senior women’s 8km title in 2016 and a silver medal in the same event last year.
“Running here (Jan Meda) is always tough,” she said. “But I think my experience helped me. I was not sure I was going to win it. But I just wanted to try and see.”
U20 wins go to Gashaw and Gebregziabher
Abe Gashaw, who was among the favourites to win the U-20 8km contest, proved his strong finish once again after winning the Great Ethiopian Run in 2016 with the same style. The first pack of six men quickly distanced themselves from the rest as early as the fifth kilometre. One kilometre later, Birhanu Wendimu, Gashaw, Mekuriaw Zeleke, Nibret Melake and Solomon Berihun all positioned themselves for the final sprint without really looking to make a decisive move. That moment came in the last 50 metres when Melake and Gashaw took off with the latter getting the nod by one second in 24:49.
“I was well prepared because I knew the race would be really difficult,” said Gashaw. “I struggled to catch the first pack at the early stages. With my (Ethiopian) team, I hope we can bring medals from the (African Cross Country) championships.”
In the women’s corresponding race, Jan Meda debutant Girmawit Gebregzabher clinched the 6km U20 women’s title after surging ahead at the halfway point. The winner was well ahead with over a kilometre remaining while the chasing pack showed no intention of closing the gap. She deservedly took victory in 21:11, 12 seconds ahead of her closest challenger Tsige Gebreselama.
“This is the first time running at Jan Meda,” she said. “I am very excited to win here, and I hope I would repeat this (in Algeria).”
Elshadai Negash (with assistance from Abiy Wendifraw) for the IAAF
1. Enyew Mekonnen 31:01
2. Tadesse Tesfahun 31:07
3. Hunegnaw Mesfin 31:09
4. Mekashaw Eshetu 31:09
5. Gebre Erkyihun 31:10
6. Leykun Birhan 31:13
1. Enatnesh Alamirew 35:32
2. Gete Alemayehu 35:36
3. Rehima Tusa 35:49
4. Liyish Kassaye 35:56
5. Zinash Astifo 36:05
6. Shasho Insermo 36:09
1. Abe Gashaw 24:49
2. Nibret Melake 24:50
3. Birhanu Wendimu 24:58
4. Mekuriaw Zeleke 25:02
5. Solomon Berihun 25:05
6. Getachew Masresha 25:06
1. Girmawit Gebregzabher 21:11
2. Tsige Gebreselama 21:23
3. Mizan Alem 21:28
4. Birzaf Tareke 21:34
5. Birhan Mihretu 21:38
6. Ejegayehu Taye 21:40