Report07 Jan 2024

Chebet and Aregawi the victors in Elgoibar


Berihu Aregawi wins in Elgoibar (© Félix Sánchez (Fotorunners))

World cross-country champion Beatrice Chebet and world cross-country silver medallist Berihu Aregawi lived up to their status as pre-race favourites by capturing commanding wins at the Cross Internacional Juan Muguerza – a World Athletics Cross Country Tour Gold meeting – in the Spanish town of Elgoibar on Sunday (7).

The rain created a muddy surface and led to gruelling conditions, but Chebet managed to pull away in the closing stages, while Aregawi achieved his first cross-country victory on Spanish soil.

Newly-minted world 5km record-holder Chebet took command of the women's 7.62km race from the start and covered the opening lap on the track in 1:18 with just compatriots Edinah Jebitok and Grace Nawowuna plus Ethiopia's Asmarech Anley for company. British trio Lauren Hall, Sarah Astin and Niamh Brown were three seconds behind while Spain’s Irene Sánchez-Escribano, Carolina Robles and Isabel Barreiro ran another couple of seconds adrift.

Chebet's relentless pace – 3:19 and 3:21 for the first two kilometres on a far from ideal circuit – soon paid off and Anley could not live with that pace, leaving the Kenyan contingent as a lead trio out in front. Chebet gradually increased her speed and clocked 7:02 for the penultimate lap, but 2021 Elgoibar winner Jebitok and Nawowuna still remained at her shoulder.

Just before the bell, Nawowuna – who finished fourth at last year’s World Cross – briefly took the lead, but Chebet soon regained pole position. A struggling Anley, meanwhile, was overtaken on the last lap by the leading British and Spanish runners.

The key move came with one kilometre remaining when Chebet broke away from her compatriots to cover the final lap in 6:54, securing her first victory in Elgoibar in what was her third appearance. Jebitok dropped Nawowuna in the final kilometre to finish second, two seconds behind Chebet. Much further back, Britain’s Brown claimed fourth place.

“It was tough as the rain appeared just before the race but I'm satisfied with my Spanish tour as I managed a world record and my first win at such prestigious race like this,” said Chebet, whose next race will be in Eldoret on 3 February before she turns her attention to defending her world cross-country title in Belgrade.

Spanish duo Adel Mechaal and Fernando Carro led during the early stages of the men’s 9.71km contest. They covered the opening lap of the track in 1:08 with the main favourites in hot pursuit; Mechaal still led by the end of the initial 1km loop but he was being followed closely by Aregawi, Carro, Burundi's Rodrigue Kwizera, Morocco's world and Olympic steeplechase champion Soufiane El Bakkali, his compatriot Abderrahmane Aferdi and Kenya's world U20 cross-country champion Ishmael Kipkurui.

Before the leading pack completed the first big 2.2km big lap in 6:38, Aferdi and Carro had lost ground and five men remained at the helm: Mechaal, Aregawi, El Bakkali, Kwizera and Kipkurui. Roughly 14 minutes into the race, Aregawi moved into the lead for the first time, and his change of cadence forced his opponents to run in single file.

Just two minutes later, Aregawi had built a three-second gap on Kipkurui, El Bakkali and Kwizera with Mechaal further adrift by a couple of seconds.

Aregawi continued to extend his lead on the penultimate lap, but behind him the positions changed between El Bakkali, Kwizera, Kipkurui and Mechaal. By the bell, Aregawi’s lead had grown to 70 metres, while his four closest challengers had regrouped as a chasing quartet. He threw in a speedy 2:50 kilometre, but then eased down in the closing stages, safe in the knowledge that he’d done enough to win.

Aregawi eventually crossed the line in 30:30. In the battle for the remaining podium places, Kwizera broke away to leave behind El Bakkali, Kipkurui and Mechaal. The Burundian took second place in 30:34, two seconds ahead of El Bakkali.

Kipkurui settled for fourth, just one second behind El Bakkali, while Mechaal completed the top five. Spain's three-time world triathlon champion Mario Mola, who in recent months has focused on running, finished a fine 10th.

“The course was extremely tough, so I preferred to be cautious for the first half,” said Aregawi, who also intends to compete at the World Cross in Belgrade on 30 March before turning his attention to the Olympic Games.

Emeterio Valiente for World Athletics

Leading results

Women (7.6km)
1 Beatrice Chebet (KEN) 26:08
2 Edinah Jebitok (KEN) 26:10
3 Grace Nawowuna (KEN) 26:25
4 Niamh Brown (GBR) 27:55
5 Sarah Astin (GBR) 28:06
6 Lauren Hall (GBR) 28:12
7 Carolina Robles (ESP) 28:26
8 Isabel Barreiro (ESP) 28:32
9 Irene Sánchez-Escribano (ESP) 28:32
10 Asmarech Anley (ETH) 28:44

Men (9.7km)
1 Berihu Aregawi (ETH) 30:30
2 Rodrigue Kwizera (BDI) 30:34
3 Soufiane El Bakkali (MAR) 30:36
4 Ishmael Kipkurui (KEN) 30:37
5 Adel Mechaal (ESP) 30:43
6 Nassim Hassaous (ESP) 31:22
7 Daniel Arce (ESP) 31:33
8 Abderrahmane Aferdi (MAR) 31:38
9 David Bascunana (ESP) 32:20
10 Mario Mola (ESP) 32:22

Pages related to this article