Rodrigue Kwizera wins in Soria (© Asociación ADOC)
Burundi’s Rodrigue Kwizera and Ethiopia’s Likina Amebaw were triumphant at the Cross Internacional de Soria – the fifth Gold level meeting of this season’s World Athletics Cross Country Tour – held at altitude (1100m) in Soria, Spain, on a sunny and pleasant Sunday (19).
As was the case last weekend in Seville, both races had thrilling sprint finishes and the winners prevailed by the narrowest of the margins.
In the men's 8.8km contest, Kwizera and Spain's Ouassim Oumaiz led the large lead pack through the opening 1.5km circuit in 4:18 with Uganda's Martin Kiprotich, Kenya’s Hillary Chepkwony and Spain's Nassim Hassaous also in close attendance.
The 24-year-old Oumaiz, winner in Atapuerca in 2019, maintained his relentless pace, and by the end of the first 2.5km lap – covered in 7:11 – the lead group had been whittled down to 10 men. During the second lap, Kenya's Peter Kariuki, Eritrea's Aron Kifle and Burundi's Amorebieta winner Celestin Ndikumana began to slip out of contention for a podium finish.
Following another 7:13 lap, seven men reached the bell with Oumaiz, Kiprotich, Chepkwony, Kwizera and Eritrea's Filmon Kibrom at the helm while Spain’s Hassaous and Sergio Paniagua ran at the back of the group.
Just 300 metres into the closing lap, Hassaous and Panigua started to lose ground, as did Kibrom. The lead quartet – Oumaiz, Kwizera, Chepkwony and Kiprotich – entered the final kilometre completely level. In the thrilling closing stages, pre-race favourites Kwizera and Chepkwony finally managed to leave Oumaiz and Kiprotich behind as they fought for victory.
Spain-based Kwizera eventually got the verdict by a narrow margin to achieve his first win of this cross country season after third-place finishes in Atapuerca and Seville. As was the case in Seville last week, Chepkwony had to settle for the runner-up spot with both men being given the same time (25:36).
"I’m so happy as this is my first win this season,” said Kwizera. “I decided to take a risk on the last bend but that was the key as I managed some valuable metres on Chepkwony and could resist his late attack. I'll next race in Alcobendas if I solve some visa issues.”
Oumaiz kept Kiprotich at bay to finish third, a timely confidence booster ahead of the European Cross Country Championships in Brussels in three weeks’ time.
Defending champion Thierry Ndikumwenayo, Kwizera's training partner, sustained an injury last month while training in Kenya, so in the circumstances was relatively pleased with his 10th-place finish, 36 seconds behind the winner.
In the women’s race, also held over 8.8km, two-time winner Lucy Mawia took the early lead in the early stages with just five athletes following her: Amebaw and fellow Ethiopian Asayech Ayichew, Italy's Valentina Gemetto, France's Alessia Zarbo and Argentina's Fedra Luna.
The pace of the lead group slowed down in the following kilometres, and the pack had grown to 20 women by the time the clock read eight minutes.
To the delight of the home crowd, Spanish steeplechaser Irene Sánchez-Escribano moved to the front after the first 2.5km lap (covered in 8:30), closely followed by Gemetto and Mawia. Soon after, Mawia once again took control of the rhythm but her lead was short-lived as Sánchez-Escribano and her training-mate Carolina Robles, an Olympic finalist in the steeplechase in 2021, regained the lead midway through the penultimate lap, which was covered in a slightly quicker 8:28.
At the bell, seven women remained in contention. Somewhat surprisingly, Mawia was among the first of those to fade on the last lap and she eventually dropped out. The leading Spanish contenders, meanwhile, couldn’t maintain the pace being set by Gemetto but Ayichew and Amebaw stayed in close contact.
In an exciting finish, Ayichew upped her pace in the closing kilometre as Gemetto was finally left behind. Amebaw still had something left in the tank, though, and came through to win by one second in 29:44, achieving her second victory of the season. Gemetto held on for third place, five seconds ahead of fast-finishing Spaniard Marta García.
“Before the start, I didn't feel at my 100% so I decided to see how the race would develop and not push too hard at any time,” said Amebaw, who will likely race in Alcobendas next weekend. “Luckily my tactics paid off.”
Emeterio Valiente for World Athletics
1 Likina Amebaw (ETH) 29:44
2 Asayech Ayichew (ETH) 29:45
3 Valentina Gemetto (ITA) 30:06
4 Marta García (ESP) 30:11
5 Carolina Robles (ESP) 30:18
6 Irene Sánchez-Escribano (ESP) 30:28
7 Cristina Espejo (ESP) 30:46
8 Marta Pérez (ESP) 30:54
9 Esther Navarrete (ESP) 31:02
10 Lli Anna Vincis-Toth (HUN) 31:04
1 Rodrigue Kwizera (BDI) 25:34
2 Hillary Chepkwony (KEN) 25:34
3 Ouassim Oumaiz (ESP) 25:40
4 Martin Kiprotich (UGA) 25:40
5 Filmon Kibrom (ERI) 25:41
6 Peter Kariuki (KEN) 26:00
7 Nassim Hassaous (ESP) 26:04
8 Sergio Paniagua (ESP) 26:04
9 Fernando Carro (ESP) 26:11
10 Thierry Ndikumwenayo (ESP) 26:12