Report17 Dec 2023

Jebitok and Oukhelfen victorious in Venta de Baños


Edinah Jebitok on her way to victory (© Asociacion ADOC)

Kenya's Edinah Jebitok and Spain's Abdessamad Oukhelfen captured wins at the Cross Internacional de Venta de Baños, the ninth Gold level meeting of this season’s World Athletics Cross Country Tour, on Sunday (17).

Racing on a cold day, Jebitok became an overwhelming victor, as she was two years ago, while Oukhelfen finished just one second ahead of his compatriot Fernando Carro.

The women's 9300m contest witnessed a solo run by the World Cross Country Championships eighth-place finisher Jebitok. The 22-year-old pushed hard from the gun to become a lonesome leader with 50 seconds on the clock. After the opening 1100m small lap, Jebitok had built a five-second lead on USA'S Katie Izzo and Ethiopia's Asayech Ayichew, while Kenya's Maurine Jemutai ran in fourth another two seconds adrift.

Jebitok covered the first 2200m big lap in 7:20 to extend her lead to 14 seconds over Izzo and Ayichew, the US athlete taking on most of the pacing duties. The pair of Jemutai and Hungary's Lili Anna Vindics-Toth travelled 45 seconds in arrears but five seconds clear of a Spanish group comprising Cristina Espejo, Cristina Ruiz, Marta Garcia and Angela Viciosa – all of them team medallists at last weekend's European Cross Country Championships in Brussels – plus Isabel Barreiro.

The leader's second loop was a slightly slower 7:30 but even so she increased her advantage to 21 seconds on Izzo and Ayichew, themselves 48 seconds clear of the Spanish group which had caught Vindics-Toth, while Jemutai began to falter and was never a factor. Jebitok covered the penultimate circuit in 7:35 to strenghten her margin to 30 seconds over the chasing tandem now headed by Ayichew, while the five Spaniards plus Vindics-Toth ran 1:34 behind the helm.

Over the closing lap Jebitok injected a brisker rhythm to further extend her leading margin, while Ayichew got rid of Izzo midway through that circuit and Vindics-Toth couldn't maintain the cadence of the five Spanish athletes.

At the tape the World Championships 1500m semifinalist Jebitok had built a 42-second advantage on Ayichew following a final 7:14 lap, the quickest by far. Izzo completed the podium 15 seconds behind Ayichew and the 21-year-old Viciosa, daughter of the 1998 European 5000m champion Isaac Viciosa, finished fourth another 57 seconds behind to become the first local athlete home after breaking away from Ruiz.

"It was a cold day but I felt fine throughout," said Jebitok. "I'll next race on 7 January in Elgoibar before coming back home to build up for the Kenyan trials for the World Cross Country Championships in Belgrade."

Carro and Aferdi carve out race, Oukhelfen prevails

The men's 9300m event kicked off with an early lead by Carro, the Spanish 3000m steeplechase record-holder (8:05:69), closely followed by France's Fabien Palcau, who was a late addition to the field, and Morocco's Abderrahmane Afendi. They travelled a couple of seconds ahead of Oukhelfen, Aaron Las Heras, Abderrahman El Khayami and David Bascunana.

Abdessamad Oukhelfen on his way to victory in Venta de Baños

Abdessamad Oukhelfen on his way to victory in Venta de Baños (© Asociacion ADOC)

The opening 2200m lap was timed at 6:57, with Carro and Afendi always at the helm, Palcau in third and the rest of the Spanish athletes in close attendance. After another 6:49 circuit, first El Khayami and then Las Heras lost ground while Oukhelfen moved to the front for the first time.

The key move came exactly 19:30 into the race when Oukhelfen began to push hard and managed to break away from Afendi, Carro and Palcau. The leader's penultimate loop took a frantic 6:34 to produce an eight-second margin on the trio by the bell.

Over the closing lap attention moved to the fierce battle for the other places on the podium. Inside the final kilometre, Afendi lost touch with Carro and Palcau, whose stiff fight closed the gap on the leader.

At the tape, a relaxed Oukhelfen controlled his finish and his win was never at risk. The 24-year-old clocked 30:16, one second clear of Carro and Palcau, who delivered an epic final sprint, the Spaniard prevailing by inches over the European Cross Country Championships 10th-place finisher.

"I began conservatively as I faced a tough race in Brussels last Sunday and only decided to heat up my pace over the second half," said Oukhelfen. "Over the last kilometre I realised Carro and Palcau were approaching but everything was under control and I was only aiming for the win, no matter the margin.

"I'll compete next on 31 December at Cursa dels Nassos over 5km in Barcelona," added Oukhelfen, who gifted himself a prestigious victory on the eve of his 25th birthday. He moved to Soria in March 2022 to train under Enrique Pascual, mentor of Barcelona Olympic 1500m champion Fermin Cacho and double (1997 and 1999) world marathon champion Abel Anton, among others. 

Emeterio Valiente for World Athletics

Leading results

1 Edinah Jebitok (KEN) 33:11
2 Asayech Ayichew (ETH) 33:53
3 Katie Izzo (USA) 34:08
4 Angela Viciosa (ESP) 35:05
5 Cristina Ruiz (ESP) 35:08
6 Marta Garcia (ESP) 35:11
7 Isabel Barreiro (ESP) 35:17
8 Lili Anna Vindics-Toth (HUN) 35:28
9 Cristina Espejo (ESP) 35:30
10 Lucia Rodriguez (ESP) 36:40

1 Abdessamad Oukhelfen (ESP) 30:16
2 Fernando Carro (ESP) 30:17
3 Fabien Palcau (FRA) 30:17
4 Abderrahmane Afendi (MAR) 30:34
5 Aaron Las Heras (ESP) 30:54
6 David Bascuñana (ESP) 31:00
7 Abderrahman El Khayami (ESP) 31:11
8 Daniel Hernando (ESP) 32:17
9 Vicente Viciosa (ESP) 34:17
10 Daniel Saez (ESP) 34:41

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