Carla Salome Rocha on her way to winning in Albufeira
With the expected Ugandan and Kenyan runners having travel problems and unable to make it in time for the 39th Almond Blossom Cross Country in Albufeira, the final IAAF Cross Country Permit meeting of the year turned into a domestic affair with victories for Nelson Cruz and Carla Salome Rocha on Sunday (13).
Doubling as the Portuguese Clubs Championships, 38 year-old Nelson Cruz – who has represented Cape Verde at the Olympic Games and IAAF World Championships – was out in front almost from the gun and emerged as a relatively comfortable winner in the 10.07km men’s race on the hard and fast Algarve course.
“I heard them saying behind me ‘let him go’ when I took the lead but I thought they would still catch me,” said a slightly stunned but delighted Cruz. "But in the middle of the race I thought that I was still out there alone so I can win."
He crossed the line in 30:44, five seconds ahead of Portuguese international Ricardo Ribas with Rui Teixeira another two seconds further back.
In the women’s race, over the same distance as the men and in equally sunny conditions with the temperatures touching 20C, 2010 Almond Blossom winner Ana Dulce Felix, 2013 European indoor 3000m champion Sara Moreira and Rocha were in front from the early stages of the race.
Felix dropped off the pace just after the halfway point, with more than two of the five laps still remaining.
In the middle of the penultimate lap, Moreira changed her pace and started to surge in a bid to lift her first Portuguese cross-country title but she had miscounted the laps and sprinted for the line only to hear the bell, and Moreira pulled up shortly afterwards.
Rocha suddenly found herself in the lead and hung on to win in 34:10 for her first national cross-country title. Felix was a distant second in 34:57 with Monica Silva third in 35:14.
The Portuguese club titles went to two famous entities known not just for their athletics prowess: Sporting won the men’s title while Benfica – with their runners in the first three places – easily took the women’s crown.
Antonio Fernandes for the IAAF