Ayele Abshero, winner of the junior mens' race at the World Cross in Amman (© Getty Images)
Amman, JordanDigging deep into his reserves up the final climb towards the finish, Ethiopia’s Ayele Abshero wasn’t going to settle for a second successive silver medal at the 37th IAAF World Cross Country Championships at the Bisharat Golf Club here today. And Abshero’s strength duly saw him go one better than he had in Edinburgh last year as he took the gold from Titus Mbishei (Kenya) and Moses Kibet (Uganda).
Mbishei had perhaps deserved more for it was he who had pushed the pace along for much of the 8km race. But Abshero lived up to his billing as the pre-race favourite, taking control with a surge up a short hill with some 600m to go and never looking back. Mbishei stuck to Abshero’s heels briefly but fell away to finish 25 metres down.
At least Mbishei had the satisfaction of leading Kenya to team gold, although Ethiopia came mightily close to ending Kenya’s run of 10 successive titles, a figure which now moves onto 11. Backing up Mbishei was Paul Tanui (4th), Japheth Korir (5th) and John Kipkoech (9th) for a total for 20 points. Ethiopia scored 22 with Abshero followed home by Atalay Yirsaw (6th) Gashaw Biftu (7th) and Debebe Woldsenbet (8th).
While Abshero was runner-up last year behind his compatriot, Ibrahim Jeylan, Mbishei was fifth. The Kenyan ran like a young man who knew he had to draw the finish from Abshero and, after the Eritrean squad had made the early running, Mbishei took charge. He led through the second and third laps as Abshero buried himself in the lead group outside the top three.
As the bell for the fourth and final lap sounded, the number of contenders was down to seven: Mbishei, Yirsaw, Biftu, Abshero, Kibet and Korir bunched close together with Tanui five metres back. But, once Abshero had made his surge, taking Mbishei with him, only the bronze was left to fight for and it was Kibet who edged out Tanui to become the first athlete from outside Kenya or Ethiopia to take an individual medal in this event since his fellow Ugandan, Boniface Kiprop, took bronze in 2004.
Abshero had laid down markers which pointed to his victory here with a series of fine performances during the winter. He won the Cross Internacional Juan Muguerza, in Elgoibar, Spain, on 11 January, beating the last two runners-up from the senior World Championship – Moses Mosop and Leonard Komon.
One week later Abshero finished fifth in the IAAF permit series meeting in Seville but only a few strides behind the first two, Moses Kipsiro and Tariku Bekele. In the Ethiopian trial last month, Abshero was as comfortable winner of the Junior race. He should, however, be aware that history is not on his side when it comes to a prospective senior title. In the 36-year history of the World Cross Country Championships (pending today’s Senior Men’s race) only Ethiopia’s Kenenisa Bekele has gone on to win the class Senior Men’s 12km title having triumphed as a junior.
Mbishei now has a pair of individual silver medals at global level, having finished runner-up over 10,000m in the 2008 World Junior Championships, in Bydgoszcz, Poland. He is the latest of a long line of Kenyans to have developed his early fitness by running to and from school, 4.5km each way in his case. On top of that his running would be put to the test herding sheep and hunting rabbits with his father.
Team bronze medals went to Eritrea, their squad led home by Goitom Kifle (14th) and completed by Malue Andom (18th), Nassir Dawud (19th) and Merhawi Tadesse (21st).
Despite his concerns over a recent injury, German Fernandez the world’s fastest ever junior indoor miler was the first non-African across the line in 11th place.
After breaking the record for the second time this season, Fernandez suffered what he described as “a stress reaction” to a foot and had been running for the last two weeks in pain. While he achieved the top 15 place he had been looking for, he leaves without the team medal he had his eye on. The US had to settle for fifth place behind Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Uganda.
David Powell for the IAAF