Ethiopia’s Tamirat Tola and Kenya’s Faith Kipyegon captured outstanding victories at the 34rd Cross Internacional de Italica, held near the Spanish city of Seville, the fourth the leg of this season’s IAAF Cross Country Permit series on Sunday (17).
Bahrain’s El Hassan Elabbassi took command of the pace in the senior men’s race over 10.9km, covering the first lap in 6:02 in the company of the Ugandan duo of Timothy Toroitich and Moses Kibet, Eritrea’s Teklemariam Medhin and the eventual winner Tola.
The big surprise at this stage was that the 2013 winner Conseslus Kipruto was in a second group well back on the leaders, the Kenyan apparently suffering some back problems in the days up to the race and not being fully fit.
The following 2km loops were passed in 6:05-6:10 with two-time world cross-country medallist Medhin at the front most of the time, followed by Toroitich with Elabbassi and Tola in close contact.
The key moment came midway on the penultimate circuit when Tola injected a strong surge and quickly built a gap of 50 metres on Medhin and Toroitich. He reached the bell with a sizable gap over his pursuers after a swift 5:55 lap.
On the last lap, with Tola still charging ahead, the attention turned to who was going to take second place. The contest developed into a duel between Toroitich and 2015 winner Medhin, as Kibet and then Elabbassi dropped away
Tola’s 6:00 last lap brought him home in 30:57 while regular fast finisher Medhin got the better of Toroitich, the pair clocking 31:09 and 31:12, the latter having to settle for the third place, as was the case 12 months ago.
Coming from a long way back on the final lap, Kipruto finished fifth behind Elabbassi.
Sixth at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships Guiyang 2015, Tola became the first Ethiopian men’s winner since Kenenisa Bekele’s success back in 2007. It was his fourth win in five high quality international outings, on both the roads and at cross country, in the past nine weeks.
“I also won in Alcobendas (a Spanish cross country race) and Bolzano (the famous New Year’s Eve 10km race in Italy) recently but today’s win is the most important so far," said Tola. "I’ll also be in contention next Sunday at the Elgoibar IAAF Cross Country Permit."
As for Medhin, the Eritrean star got married last November and lost a couple of weeks of training. The 26-year-old will make his much-awaited marathon debut on 28 February in the Tokyo Marathon but he has not yet decided which event he will be contesting at the Rio 206 Olympic Games, having finished seventh over 10,000m in London.
The women’s 8.1km race quickly became a battle between East African rivals Kenya and Ethiopia.
Even after just two kilometres, the Kenyan trio of Kipyegon, Viola Kibiwot and Irene Cheptai plus the Ethiopian pair of Netsanet Gudeta and Alemitu Heroye had detached themselves from the rest of the field after a 6:33 opening loop, with Spain’s Trihas Gebre running in solitude some 60 metres adrift.
It was Gudeta who first lost ground from the main pack. World 1500m silver medallist Kipyegon then decided to go through the gears at exactly the halfway point and only Kibiwot tried to stay on her shoulder, but that only lasted for some 800 metres as Kipyegon uncorked a 6:24 third lap.
By the bell, the 2011 and 2013 world junior cross-country champion had a solid 10-second advantage on Kibiwot, herself 12 seconds ahead of Heroye and Cheptai.
Kipyegon’s relentless pace during the closing lap increased her dominance to 20 seconds by the line, winning in 24:56, as Kibiwot finished second in 25:50.
Cheptai shook off Heroye to clinch third place in 25:50 and make it an all-Kenyan women’s podium.
Now coached by 2006 European 800m champion Bram Som of the Netherlands, Kipyegon commented: “I’m very satisfied with my victory although the race was tough. I now plan another cross-country race in Italy and I’ll be focused on the cross country this winter so I’ll skip the World Indoor Champs."
Asked about her Olympics ambitions in Rio, the 22-year-old Kipyegon said: “I still have to decide if I’ll be doing the 1500m or I’ll be moving up to the 5000m."
Emeterio Valiente for the IAAF