Peruth Chemutai wins the CrossCup in Hannut (© David Pintens for CrossCup)
The World Athletics Cross Country Tour Gold meeting in Hannut delivered a wonderful day of cross-country racing as Peruth Chemutai and Samuel Fitwi ended up on top of the podium on Sunday (20). Olympic steeplechase champion Chemutai took a glorious gun-to-tape victory in challenging conditions, while Fitwi had to battle Rogers Kibet until the final lap.
Chemutai had already made history before embarking on her 6500m in challenging conditions in Hannut. The 22-year-old Ugandan became the first reigning Olympic champion to toe the line in the more than 40-year history of the CrossCup. Chemutai meant business in Hannut, taking the lead right from the gun. Beatrice Chebet and Prisca Chesang tried to hold on as the Olympic champion set a mighty pace.
Chesang was the first to get dropped as her compatriot powered on. Chebet, who participated at the World Indoor Tour Gold meeting in Lievin on Thursday, did everything she could to maintain the pace, but it was Chemutai who would head into the final two laps with a lead of about 10 seconds. Chebet could not close the gap as Chemutai broke the tape, grabbing her first win of the year. Chesang came in third, over half a minute behind her fellow Ugandan. Chebet, however, did an excellent job regarding the World Cross Country Tour Gold standings as she managed to keep Chesang and Ethiopia’s Likina Amebaw (fourth) behind her.
"It was a very good race to start my year," said the Olympic champion after her very first cross-country race on Belgian soil. "The course was a bit slippery, and the wind played an important role, but I very much enjoyed racing here. I do hope to come back next year and would like to congratulate the organisers on their work in these conditions."
The 'battle of the Belgians' resulted in a duel between Olympic marathoner Mieke Gorissen and current leader in the CrossCup, Lisa Rooms. Gorissen seemed to have the upper hand on the final lap, but it was Rooms who surprised the crowd by finishing in seventh place. Gorissen had to settle for eighth, a couple of seconds behind Rooms.
If the women’s senior race was to be considered a one-woman show, then the men’s senior race was more of a thriller.
Uganda’s Kibet was inspired by Chemutai’s performance in the women’s race. He decided to opt for a similar tactic, setting a killer pace. Five men, including former winner Fitwi and Belgians Lucas Da Silva and Arnaud Dely, attempted to follow Kibet. On the next lap the Belgians got dropped after another surge from Kibet. Mahamed Mahamed and Habtom Samuel struggled to follow the leaders but managed to hold on a little longer.
The strong gusts of wind caused by storm Franklin proved to be an extra challenge when the runners entered the final stages of the race. Mahamed and Samuel were forced to let Kibet and Fitwi go. The German seemed to falter but refused to surrender. Fitwi used the last small descent to launch into the lead, surprising Kibet who clearly had no energy left to answer the attack. The 26-year-old German grabbed his second consecutive win in Hannut, while Kibet managed to hold off Samuel in the battle for second place. Da Silva became Belgium’s surprise top finisher in fifth place.
Luxembourg's Ruben Querinjean came out on top in the men’s short cross race, finishing in front of his training buddy Valere Hustin and a surprisingly strong Nick Marsman from the Netherlands. European indoor 1500m champion Elise Vanderelst powered to the victory in the women’s short cross race. World U20 Championships finalist Annelies Nijssen finished in second, before reigning Belgian short cross champion Lotte Scheldeman.
Quinten Lafort for World Athletics