Nicholas Kimeli wins the 78th Cross Internacional Juan Muguerza (© Asociación ANOC)
Kenya's Nicholas Kimeli and Edinah Jebitok captured commanding wins at the 78th Cross Internacional Juan Muguerza – a World Athletics Cross Country Tour Gold meeting – in the Spanish town of Elgoibar on Sunday (9).
Both races were held in non-stop heavy rain, with the women’s event setting off at a moderate pace. The opening lap on the track was timed at 1:13, with Uganda’s world U20 5000m bronze medallist Prisca Chesang making the most of the pacing duties, closely followed by the rest of the favourites.
With the clock reading seven minutes, only four women remained in the leading group, with Chesang joined by the Kenyan pair of Beatrice Chebet and Jebitok, plus Ethiopia’s Senbere Teferi, but the latter fell at a muddy downhill section and lost contact with the leading trio.
Shortly afterwards, 1500m Olympian Jebitok stepped up the pace to build a two-second advantage ahead of Chebet and Chesang after a 7:13 2.1km loop. Surprisingly, Kenya’s 3000m steeplechase record-holder Beatrice Chepkoech was never a factor and travelled way back off the leaders.
Some 13 minutes into the race, Jebitok put in a decisive surge with a 3:15 kilometre, which built a sizeable margin on her pursuers. Following a frantic 7:00 circuit, the 20-year-old Kenyan had gained a 10-second lead on Chebet, while Chesang was 21 seconds back.
Jebitok extended her advantage over the closing circuit to secure a clear win over Chebet, with 15 seconds separating the two at the finish line. The 18-year-old Chesang kept Teferi at bay to complete a quality top three, 15 seconds behind Chebet but 11 seconds clear of the Ethiopian.
Chepkoech finished a distant eighth, some 1:36 behind the victor, while Great Britain’s Kate Holt was the first European athlete home in ninth, just ahead of her compatriot Alexandra Millard.
An ecstatic Jebitok said: "Conditions were tough, but I can't be more satisfied with my victory. I already won in Venta de Banos and ran 30:44 for second in Madrid, so I’m extremely happy with my performances this season."
Kimeli prevails over Yihune
The men’s 10.8km contest kicked off with Spain’s European indoor 3000m bronze medallist Adel Mechaal taking the early lead. He was closely followed by Ugandan teenager Rodgers Kibet and the rest of the favourites, including Ethiopia’s Campaccio winner Addisu Yihune and Kenya’s Tokyo 5000m fourth-place finisher Kimeli.
Kibet moved to the front after the second kilometre and began to push hard, his brisk pace followed only by Yihune, Kimeli, Ethiopia’s Getnet Wale and Kenya’s Amos Serem. Following successive laps of 6:40 and 6:39, first Serem and then Wale lost ground and the race became a three-athlete battle between the front-runner Kibet, Yihune and Kimeli, who had reportedly experienced slight back pain on the eve of the race.
Kibet’s relentless pace led to a 6:35 penultimate circuit and the three African aces reached the bell virtually even, much to the delight of the knowledgeable crowd assembled. Some two minutes into the closing lap, the 16-year-old Kibet began to falter as Yihune had found another gear. The last kilometre was thrilling as the Ethiopian built a two-second gap on Kimeli over the toughest section of the course and he seemed a safe bet for the win, but a brave Kimeli finally managed to catch Yihune and released a lethal change of speed over the final 200m to stride home unopposed in 33:47 after a frantic 6:21 closing lap.
Yihune jogged over the final 100m to finish runner-up, six seconds behind Kimeli, while Kibet finished third, 12 seconds adrift of the Ethiopian. In the fight for fourth place, Mechaal pipped a fading Wale to receive a standing applause from the crowd.
The 23-year-old Kimeli, who was running on Spanish soil for the first time, said: “Today’s race has been one of my hardest ever races because of the mud and the high-calibre field.
"At the Tokyo Olympics I narrowly missed a medal but I’m determined to win a medal at either the World Championships in Eugene or the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham."
The Eldoret-based rising 5000m star added: "I now go back to Kenya to continue my training for the Diamond League meetings this summer."
Emeterio Valiente for World Athletics
1 Edinah Jebitok (KEN) 26:03
2 Beatrice Chebet (KEN) 26:18
3 Prisca Chesang (UGA) 26:33
4 Senbere Teferi (ETH) 26:44
5 Fantaye Belayneh (ETH) 27:03
6 Tsige Haileslase (ETH) 27:10
7 Esther Chebet (UGA) 27:19
8 Beatrice Chepkoech (KEN) 27:39
9 Kate Holt (GBR) 28:16
10 Alexandra Millard (GBR) 28:28
1 Nicholas Kimeli (KEN) 33:47
2 Addisu Yihune (ETH) 33:53
3 Rodgers Kibet (UGA) 34:05
4 Adel Mechaal (ESP) 34:49
5 Getnet Wale (ETH) 34:49
6 Nassim Hassaous (ESP) 35:04
7 Amos Serem (KEN) 35:19
8 Iliass Aouani (ITA) 35:35
9 Hugo Milner (GBR) 35:42
10 Jose Espana (ESP) 35:49