Ronald Kwemoi pips Hillary Chepkwony at the Cross Internacional de Italica (© Diputacion de Sevilla)
Edinah Jebitok and Ronald Kwemoi achieved a Kenyan double at the Cross Internacional de Italica, the fourth World Athletics Cross Country Tour Gold meeting of the season, held on the outskirts of Seville on Sunday (12).
Making their debuts at the event, Jebitok and Kwemoi claimed the titles on a sunny and pleasant afternoon after respective sprint finishes against Ethiopia's world U20 champion Senayet Getachew and Kenya's Hillary Chepkwony.
In the absence of pre-race favourite Beatrice Chebet, who withdrew on the eve of the event because of illness, the women's 9918m contest opened at a brisk pace set by Jebitok, who only had her compatriot Winnie Jemutai, Ethiopians Getachew and Wede Kefale, and Uganda's Annet Chelangat for company just one minute into the race. Way back, Britain's Amelia Quirk, Kate Axford and Phoebe Barker led the chasing group alongside Spain's European U20 champion Maria Forero and her compatriot Carolina Robles.
Jebitok broke away from the rest of the lead group at the start of the second 2450m circuit and built a five-second margin over Getachew midway through that lap. Getachew was another four seconds clear of Jemutai and gradually she reeled in Jebitok, until they were running together at the helm midway through the race. Jemutai was a lonesome third, while Kefale and Chelangat were further back. Behind them, Quirk and Forero took turns leading their group, followed by Robles and Axford.
Throughout the penultimate loop, Jebitok and Getachew tried to lose each other but neither managed to do so. By the bell, the pair had built a 20-second margin ahead of Jemutai, while Forero and Quirk were in sixth and seventh place, and would fight to be the first European home.
Already on the closing lap with the clock reading 25:40, Jebitok unleashed another kick and was able to leave Getachew behind for the second time, opening a six-second margin with 1000m remaining. Much to the delight of the large crowd watching, the Ethiopian bounced back and passed Jebitok with some 500m remaining. Jebitok then found another gear and reached the narrow final bend a few metres ahead, but to the astonishment of the crowd she stopped in the belief that she had crossed the finish line.
Getachew took advantage and overtook her, entering the home straight in the lead, but Jebitok – a 1500m specialist – didn't surrender and passed her rival in the final metre to win by the narrowest of margins. Both athletes were credited with a finishing time of 32:39, well clear of Jemutai who was third in 33:37. Chelangat was fourth and Kefale fifth, while 20-year-old Forero got the better of Quirk to secure sixth.
“I'm so satisfied with my European tour as I have won twice and was runner-up in Atapuerca,” said Jebitok. “My main goal is to be the overall victor of this season's Cross Country Tour.”
Women's podium at the 2023 Cross Internacional de Italica (© Diputacion de Sevilla)
Kwemoi maintains momentum
The men's race was also held over 9918m and witnessed an early lead by the in-form Kwemoi, as the 28-year-old – who set the world U20 1500m record in 2014 – set a brisk pace that could only be followed by his compatriots Chepkwony and Ishmael Kipkurui, the world U20 champion, plus Burundi's Rodrigue Kwizera and Uganda's Martin Kiprotich. The opening lap was covered in 7:07, with the lead group also featuring the Spanish pair of world 5000m silver medallist Mo Katir and Abdessamad Oukhelfen, the 2019 European U23 cross country bronze medallist.
Clocking 7:17 for the second lap, Kiprotich, Kwemoi and Kwizera took on most of the pacing duties and Kipkurui and Chepkwony tucked behind. Some 6.7km into the race first Oukhelfen and then Katir could not live with the increasingly quick lead pace and lost ground. By the bell (7:13 for the penultimate lap), five men remained in contention while Katir and Oukhelfen travelled five and seven seconds in arrears, respectively.
The closing lap became more than thrilling as Kwizera pushed hard, trying to avoid a massive sprint, but the Burundian’s efforts only managed to leave Kiprotich behind, while Kwemoi, Kipkurui and Chepkwony, who ran conservatively always at the back of the main group, remained at Kwizera's shoulder.
The next casualty was Kipkurui and the race turned into a fascinating three-horse battle. Chepkwony moved to the front for the first time with around 500m remaining and his change of speed could not be replicated by Kwizera. Chepkwony reached the final bend still ahead of Kwemoi, but the latter finally prevailed after an epic battle for the win.
Emeterio Valiente for World Athletics
1 Edinah Jebitok (KEN) 32:39
2 Senayet Getachew (ETH) 32:39
3 Winnie Jemutai (KEN) 33:37
4 Annet Chelangat (UGA) 33:55
5 Wede Kefale (ETH) 34:28
6 Maria Forero (ESP) 35:06
7 Amelia Quirk (GBR) 35:13
8 Kate Axford (GBR) 35:21
9 Carolina Robles (ESP) 35:33
10 Cristina Espejo (ESP) 35:38
1 Ronald Kwemoi (KEN) 29:09
2 Hillary Chepkwony (KEN) 29:09
3 Rodrigue Kwizera (BDI) 29:11
4 Ishmael Kipkurui (KEN) 29:16
5 Mohamed Katir (ESP) 29:29
6 Martin Kiprotich (UGA) 29:31
7 Abdessamad Oukhelfen (ESP) 29:41
8 Sergio Paniagua (ESP) 29:48
9 Elzan Bibic (SRB) 30:00
10 Oscar Chelimo (UGA) 30:19