Aweke Ayalew wins the men's race at the Cross Internacional de Italica in Seville (© Fundación Anoc)
Bahrain’s Aweke Ayalew and Ethiopia’s Senberi Teferi captured outstanding victories at the 35th Cross Internacional de Itálica in Santiponce, near the Spanish city of Seville, the fifth leg of this season’s IAAF Cross Country Permit series on Sunday (15).
Held on a pleasant and dry afternoon with the temperature about 12C, the men’s 10.8km didn’t start particularly fast as a large pack covered the opening two kilometres in 6:18.
The following circuit took 6:16 with Eritrea’s Teklemariam Medhin and Kenya’s Jairus Birech making most of the pace-setting while the nine-unit leading group included the main favourites in the guise of Ayalew, Ethiopia’s Tafese Soboka and Leonard Komon of Kenya. To the delight of the home crowd, the lead group also included three Spaniards: European 5000m champion Ilias Fifa, Toni Abadía and Javier Guerra.
Komon, the world 10km and 15km record-holder, and Soboka did most of the front-running on the third lap while Ayalew ran comfortably in the middle of the pack, but European 10,000m bronze medallist Abadía gradually began to lose ground.
The lead group’s pace became increasingly quicker and they covered the third lap in 6:13, but somewhat surprisingly the in-form Birech began to struggle shortly afterwards and lost any chance of making the podium. Guerra and Fifa also later dropped from the lead pack, leaving the race in the hands of a quintet comprising Ayalew and his compatriot Hassan El Abbassi, Soboka, Komon and Medhin.
The penultimate circuit was covered in 6:12 with Medhin and Komon – both previous winners here – at the forefront, but shortly afterwards Ayalew stepped up the pace. His strong move soon paid dividends as Komon and El Abbassi struggled to stay with him at the start of the final lap.
The race then became a three-man battle between Ayalew, Soboka and Medhin but Ayalew produced a decisive change of speed with about 1.3km left and opened a significant margin on Soboka and Medhin in a matter of seconds.
Despite losing some time by taking a wrong turn on the final bend, Ayalew covered the closing lap in 5:59 to secure a commanding victory in 31:36. For the second year in a row, 2015 winner Medhin had to settle for the runner-up spot, six seconds behind Ayalew, after breaking away from Soboka with about 700 metres remaining. Soboka completed a classy podium another two seconds adrift.
Fifa won the domestic battle, finishing sixth in 31:56. A fading Birech had to settle for 12th place, more than a minute behind the winner.
“It was my first time here, I felt great throughout and could break away over the last lap,” said a joyful Ayalew, who will turn 24 next month. “I liked the course a lot. I’m in full preparation for the World Cross Country Championships in Kampala. My next race will be next Sunday in Elgoibar where I’ll defend my title.”
Medhin was content with his opening race of the cross-country season. “Before the race I was a bit doubtful as it was my opener and you never know what kind of form you’re going to show,” said the tall Eritrean. “Anyway, I’m leaving Seville happy as my performance was quite good, despite a minor knee niggle. My primary goal for this season is Kampala; I’ll travel to Eritrea within 10 days and will contest the national championships in mid-February.”
Teferi shows awesome form
Portugal’s 2008 European cross-country bronze medallist Ines Monteiro led during the early stages of the women’s 8.1km race. The 36-year-old is making a promising return to form after a long maternity leave and her brisk pace was too much for all of her rivals, apart from Bahrain’s Olympic steeplechase champion Ruth Jebet, Ethiopia’s world cross-country silver medallist Senbere Teferi and Spain’s Trihas Gebre.
Jebet took command of the race after the second kilometre. By the half-way point she had just Teferi for company as Monteiro and Gebre trailed some 20 seconds behind.
Teferi upped the pace about 13 minutes into the race, which proved to be too fast for Jebet and she had an 11-second lead going into the final lap. Gebre and Monteiro, meanwhile, were another 16 seconds adrift.
After successive laps of 6:45 and 6:34, Teferi’s significant lead over Jebet meant that she could afford to ease down during the closing kilometre and the world 5000m silver medallist went on to win by 13 seconds in 25:52.
Jebet finished second, while Monteiro was third, more than 90 seconds behind the winner. Gebre faltered dramatically in the closing stages and lost the honour of being first Spaniard home as 1500m specialist Ana Lozano came through to take fourth place in 27:38.
“Today’s race is my second win in this season’s IAAF Cross Country Permit series after my victory in Atapuerca,” said Teferi, who will once again line up against Jebet in Elgoibar next weekend.
Emeterio Valiente for the IAAF
1 Aweke Ayalew (BRN) 31:36
2 Teklemariam Medhin (ERI) 31:42
3 Tafese Soboka (ETH) 31:44
4 El Hassan El Habbassi (BRN) 31:49
5 Leonard Komon (KEN) 31:53
6 Ilias Fifa (ESP) 31:56
7 Adel Mechaal (ESP) 32:02
8 Javier Guerra (ESP) 32:13
9 Toni Abadía (ESP) 32:28
10 Rabah Aboud (ALG) 32:31
1 Senbere Teferi (ETH) 25:52
2 Ruth Jebet (BRN) 26:05
3 Ines Monteiro (POR) 27:29
4 Ana Lozano (ESP) 27:38
5 Trihas Gebre (ESP) 27:43
6 Gema Martín (ESP) 27:50
7 Nuria Fernández (ESP) 28:00
8 Azucena Díaz (ESP) 28:03
9 Jacqueline Martín (ESP) 28:06
10 Carolina Robles (ESP) 28:15