Imane Merga kicks off his Cross Country campaign with victory in Atapuerca (© Alfambra Fundación ANOC)
13 November 2011Atapuerca (Burgos), Spain – The IAAF Cross Country Permit Series 2011/12 got underway on Sunday (13) with a brilliant spectacle at the 8th ‘Cross Internacional de Atapuerca’ which witnessed the expected wins of the reigning World Cross Country champion Imane Merga of Ethiopia and Kenya’s Linet Masai on the women’s side on a sunny but windy day.
While Merga outsprinted Eritrea’s Kidane Tadese in the closing 100 metres to grab a narrow one-second victory, Masai delighted with a solo run from midway to build a massive 22-second gap on Ethiopia’s Belaynesh Oljira at the tape.
Tadese gives Merga a scare
The 9.807km men’s race was exciting from the very beginning as Ethiopia’s Humegnaw Mesfin and the Madrid-based Tadese took the lead from the star and injected a brisk pace to cover the opening 3000m in 8:30; by then the favourite Merga run in the middle of the nine-man leading pack.
However, their front running soon paid dividends and one kilometre later the race seemed a three-horse battle between Mesfin, Tadese and Merga although the Kenyan pair of Vincent Chepkok and Mike Kiptoo travelled some metres back.
The 5000m point was reached in 13:55 and the Kenyans had already joined the main group. Inside the 2000m final lap the Ethiopian pair of Mesfin and Merga ruled the pace but the in-form Tadese looked always a serious threat. The decisive movement came with some 300 metres remaining when Tadese unleashed a devastating kick which could only be responded by the World champion Merga.
The closing section of the race became a fantastic clash between Tadese and Merga, with the latter prevailing after a thrilling sprint finish, 27:21 and 27:22 their respective times. Meanwhile, Mesfin took the minor place on the podium timed at 27:25.
The domestic battle to be the first Spaniard home was taken by the national champion Ayad Lamdassem who finished in seventh some 57 seconds adrift the victor.
A joyful Merga, who returned to Spain for the first time after winning the World title in Punta Umbría last March, said, “I was always confident of my final sprint, so I decided to wait and see throughout the race and fortunately it paid off.”
Women's race – Masai, overwhelming winner
The women’s 7.839km contest opened quite cautiously and the first clear leader was Ireland’s steeplechaser Fionnuala Britton, a creditable fourth at last year’s European Cross Country Championships. The Irish even managed to open a 20m gap on the favourites but her lead was finally short-lived as it was last year’s victor Genzebe Dibaba who reeled in her.
The 2000m section was reached in 6:45 with eight women still at the front; shortly afterwards the impressive Masai took charge for the first time and the immediate consequence was a single file behind the current World XC silver and 10,000m bronze medallist.
But the relentless rhythm set by the Kenyan ace made her a lonesome leader with the clock reading 11 minutes, just before midway. Masai’s pursuers run in pairs by then, with Kenya’s Priscah Jeptoo and Ethiopia’s Ayalew Hiwot ahead of Dibaba and her compatriot Belaynesh Oljira, both tandems travelling 30 and 60 metres behind Masai, respectively, by the fourth kilometre.
For the outstanding nearly four kilometres the picture of the race was a magnificent Masai ruling the event in style head and shoulders ahead of the rest; at the bell her advantage increased to 15 seconds while Oljira (10th at the Punta Umbría Worlds) caught Jeptoo and Hiwot.
By the end, Masai’s advantage rose to 22 seconds on runner-up Oljira while the reigning World Marathon silver medallist Jeptoo took third 32 seconds back. Dibaba completed a below-par performance in fifth 1:03 behind Masai and just ahead Britton.
An elated Masai declared: “Today’s was my cross country debut this season and honestly I didn’t know how I was going to perform. Anyway, my only target this campaign is the Olympic Games next summer.”
Emeterio Valiente for the IAAF
Leading Results -
1. Imane Merga (Ethiopia) 27:21
2. Kidane Tadese (Eritrea) 27:22
3. Humegnaw Mesfin (Ethiopia) 27:24
4. Vincent Chepkok (Kenya) 27:25
5. Mike Kiptoo (Kenya) 27:29
6. Tariku Bekele (Ethiopia) 28:01
7. Ayad Lamdassem (Spain) 28:18
8. Adhanom Abdallah (Eritrea) 28:19
9. Kiflom Sium (Eritrea) 28:37
10. Carlos Castillejo (Spain) 28:45
1. Linet Masai (Kenya) 24:20
2. Belaynesh Oljira (Ethiopia) 24:42
3. Priscah Jeptoo (Kenya) 24:52
4. Ayalew Hiwot (Ethiopia) 25:09
5. Genzebe Dibaba (Ethiopia) 25:23
6. Fiounnala Britton (Ireland) 25:32
7. Rebecca Cheptege (Uganda) 26:08
8. Hanna Walker (United Kingdom) 26:20
9. Marta Tigabea (Ethiopia) 26:33
10. Analia Rosa (Portugal) 26:42