Kenya's Japhet Korir winning at the 2014 Antrim IAAF International Cross Country (© Mark Shearman)
Kenya’s Japhet Korir showed something of the talent that made him the youngest ever IAAF World Cross Country Championships senior men’s winner just over nine months ago, when he triumphed at the Antrim IAAF International Cross Country, an IAAF Cross Country Permit meeting, on Saturday (4).
Korir, now 20, suffered a lung infection shortly after his win on the outskirts of the Polish city of Bydgoszcz last March but finally seems to have put those problems behind him at the first of two British IAAF Cross Country Permit meetings this winter as he covered the 10km course in 28:40, defeating Uganda’s 2012 Antrim winner Thomas Ayeko in a three-way sprint finish over the final few hundred metres by two seconds.
A testament to the fact that this was probably Korir’s best run since he won the World title was the fact that his in-form compatriot Emmanuel Bett was left in third place, coming home in 28:43 while another countryman, Cornelius Kangogo, was a distant fourth in 29:14.
The first British runner home was the 2013 European Cross Country Championships bronze medallist Andy Vernon, who was sixth in 29:34.
The men's race began at a fast pace. Akeyo, Korir and Bett stole an early march, and quickly broke away to form a leading pack that stayed together for the rest of the race.
Bett, the fastest 10,000m man in the world in 2012, tried to break away around the midway point, but Korir and Akeyo worked hard and hung on as the gap continued to grow between the leading trio and the chasers.
"The course was very muddy. I think it was a very nice course, although it was very heavy, but it was a very good course," commented Korir. "Akeyo was very good because of the training which he has done, which made for a very competitive race. My next race will be in Italy the day after tomorrow so it's great to win today."
The Antrim meeting was the fourth of this winter’s 12 IAAF Cross Country Permit meetings and Korir now flies straight to Italy to run in the next event on the calendar, the 57th edition of the famous Campaccio cross country race in San Giorgio su Legnano on Monday.
Mimi Belete ends three-year barren streak
The women’s race 5.6km at the Northern Ireland venue turned into an all-Bahrain affair as Mimi Belete came home in 18:07, edging out her compatriot and two-time IAAF World Championships 1500m gold medallist Maryam Jamal by one second.
In a separate battle for the final place on the podium, Belgium’s Almensh Belete, who is actually the sister of the winner, beat Ireland’s Fionnuala Britton, the winner in Antrim in 2012 and 2013.
The Belgian runner clocked 18:21 to Britton’s 18:23 with the European Cross Country Championships under-23 bronze medallist Charlotte Purdue leading the British runners home in fifth place with 18:28.
The race began at a comfortable pace, with the main protagonists part of a six woman leading group until just after the halfway point.
As she had done throughout the early stages of the race, Britton forced the pace until just after four kilometres with Jamai and Mimi Belete trading second and third spots.
Mimi Belete then took control midway through the last of three large laps, with Jamal and Almensh Belete also overtaking Britton in the final kilometre.
"I am really delighted. It was the first time for me in Antrim," said the delighted winner, who was celebrating her first competitive victory of any description, on any surface, since she won the 2010 Asian Games 5000m title over three years ago.
"It was really tough, it wasn't easy, but I am very happy. It was a little bit cold, and it was a close finish, but thankfully I got over the line in the end," added Belete, who will also race at the Campaccio meeting on Monday.
Cóilín Duffy and Phil Minshull for the IAAF