Outstanding sprint victories by Gelete Burka and Abebe Dinkessa were the highlights of the senior women’s and men’s races at the 25th Jan Meda International Cross Country, today (10). The event was Ethiopia’s trials for the 36th IAAF World Cross Country Championships, Edinburgh, Scotland, 30 March 2008.
Ibrahim Jeylan and Emebet Etea were equally impressive when winning the junior races on a day where Ethiopia started its campaign to heal the wounds of last year’s disastrous World XC in Mombasa, Kenya.
SENIOR WOMEN - Burka waits until the end to seal victory
The senior women’s 8km was billed as the highlight of the day’s action at the Jan Meda race course in northern Addis Ababa and the race did not disappoint, with action-packed close encounter that saw pre-race favourite Gelete Burka emerge as the winner.
But unlike her run-away victories in past years, Burka left it to the final 200m before sprinting clear of the chasing pack to take victory in 25:15 ahead of Koreni Jelila who surprised many by finishing ahead of All-African Games 10,000m winner Mestawet Tufa.
After a nervy start and a first half that gave no indication as to the final outcome, a pack of six runners which included Burka, Tufa, Jelila, Asselefech Mergia (national 5000m bronze medallist), Wude Ayalew (2007 TOYOTA Great Ethiopian Run 10km champion), and Genet Getaneh (2004 and 2005 TOYOTA Great Ethiopian Run 10km champion) opened up a small gap with the chasing pack.
The pack of six were tightly bunched with 3km of the race left to run as strong winds in Jan Meda begun to take their toll. At the bell (last 2km), the race reduced to a pedestrian pace, but Ayalew was the first to fall behind leaving the race a battle between five athletes. A couple of hundred metres later, Getaneh too found the increasing pace too hot for her liking as she dropping off the leading group.
With Tufa charging forward at the head of the leading group, many expected Burka to launch a kick of some sort with a kilometre of the contest left. But Burka did the sensible thing of sticking in the middle of the quartet settled from much of the increasing windy conditions.
Mergia was the first runner to show any kind of ambitions to take the lead when she hit the front at the 500m. Her enthusiasm excited her ‘jogging’ challengers who then powered past her. Burka took the lead quickly after that and never relinquished it before crossing the line for victory.
Jelila beat the challenge of Tufa to finish second, a dramatic improvement from her fourth place last year, while Merga held off the challenge from Getaneh and Ayalew to seal her automatic qualification spot for Edinburgh.
“It was a very tough race,” commented Burka on her one-second victory over Jelila. “It is my first time running the 8km here and after finishing fourth last year in Mombasa, I am getting used to it. I decided to wait until the end because the field was strong this year and the winds were difficult.”
Despite another resounding win over the cross, Burka admitted that she still harbours hopes of competing in the World Indoor Championships. “I want to compete over the 3000m in Valencia,” she said. “I am sure I can run faster than 8:27 (time run by Meseret Defar in Stuttgart) or 8:29 (time run by Meselech Melkamu in Valencia).”
SENIOR MEN - Dinkessa bounces back with dramatic sprint
Abebe Dinkessa also thrilled the crowd at the course and the millions of viewers watching the championships on national television with an impressive performance for a third national 12km title.
Dinkessa was one of the pre-race favourites, but with his history of failed comebacks and persistent injury problems, and the likes of defending champion Tadesse Tola, seasoned cross country runners like Gebregziabher Gebremariam in the race, very few expected him to flourish again here.
Like the women’s 8km, the men’s 12km was equally tight after three of six two-kilometre laps, but youngsters Habtamu Fekadu and Demesew Tsega hit the accelerator on lap five, and the field of more than 200 starters then quickly spread out.
Apart from Fekadu and Tsega, Gebremariam, Dinkessa, Addis Ababa Municipal XC champion Dereje Regassa and runner-up Zenbaba Yegezu were also at the head of the pack.
Yegezu and Regassa were quickly dropped off before the last lap (2km). A kilometre later, Gebremariam was next to go as Dinkessa, Fekadu, and Tsega all powered forward.
Tsega and Dinkessa were merciless in their pursuit of the finish line, but Fekadu failed to keep up with them soon after. Young runner Tsega, 13th in last year’s junior cross country, did his best to fend off Dinkessa, but there was no stopping the Prisons club runner from powering forward to take a deserved victory.
“I had lots of problems after Mombasa last year,” said Dinkessa after victory. “I aggravated my Achilles heel injury and did not run at all last year. I am coming to shape now and I am happy with victory here.”
Dinkessa has failed to convince his critics since his breakthrough year in 2005 where he finished fourth in World Cross and ran 26:30 for the 10,000m on the track. Asked whether his best days are ahead of him, the 24-year old said, “I always continue to work hard. I want to run well this year in Edinburgh. It is my kind of race and I hope to medal there.”
JUNIOR MEN - Three in a row for Jeylan
The junior men’s 8km also provided spectators with a ‘come-from-the-dead’ moment in Ethiopian athletics. The emergence of Ibrahim Jeylan as a top junior in 2006 was one of the highlights of Ethiopian athletics in that year after the Muger Cement club runner won national junior and 10,000m track title before capping a memorable year with a World Junior 10,000m victory in Beijing, China.
But little has since been heard of Jeylan who failed to finish in Mombasa and he did not take part in the major track meets throughout the 2007 season.
However, the 18-year-old made a stunning comeback in the junior race to take victory in 22:16 ahead of Ayele Abshiro and Hunegnaw Mesfin, the African junior 10,000m silver medallist
The race was script-made for Jeylan to produce his trademark finishing kick at the end of four fine laps of cross country running. No less than six runners were in contention at the beginning of the final lap, but Abshiro looking to take victory from joint pre-race favourites Mesfin and Dejen Gebremeskel, Jeylan pulled back a slender gap from the pack of the pack to steal victory from the noses of Abshiro for his third successive runner. The difference between the two was fifty-three-hundredths of a second.
“I lost a spike after one and half laps and struggled to get back to the leaders,” said Jeylan. “Other than that, I had no problems in this race. I am happy to return back and win here.”
Asked what the reasons were for his disappearance from competition in 2007, Jeylan said, “I had some personal problems which I do not want to speak about. The problems still exist, but I hope they can be solved. This will be my last junior year and I want to finish well.”
JUNIOR WOMEN - Victory at last for Etea
The junior women’s race provided even more drama. The scorching pace set at the earlier part of the race claimed pre-race favourite Sule Utura who collapsed at the half way point.
But there was no stopping African junior 1500m/3000m champion Emebet Etea who finally claimed victory in Jan Meda on her third attempt. The timing of her victory was also important given that the 19-year-old turns senior after Edinburgh this year.
However, only Etea and Genzebe Dibaba in second place were able to survive a race of shocks as Mahlet Melese (silver medallist over the 3000m in Ostrava); Bezunesh Urgessa (African junior 3000m silver medallist); Makeda Haroun (2007 Confidence Women First 5km runner-up); and Frehiwot Goshu (national 3000m silver medallist) were all unable to earn a top six finish to clinch their place in Edinburgh.
Instead, three of the country’s representatives in Edinburgh will be runners who have never competed outside Ethiopia, a perfect answer to claims that Ethiopia is not unearthing new faces in international competition.
“I trained too much last year and that is why I could run well in Mombassa,” said Etea who finished second here last year before failing to finish in the Kenyan coastal city.
Elshadai Negash for the IAAF
6km Junior Women
1. Emebet Etea (Defence) 18:57
2. Genzebe Dibaba (Muger Cement) 18:58
3. Tigist Mamuye (Defence) 19:10
4. Bethlehem Moges (Defence) 19:11
5. Emebet Bacha (Ethiopian Banks) 19:11
6. Waganesh Mekasha (Defence) 19:17
8km Junior Men
1. Ibrahim Jeylan (Muger Cement) 22:16 (22:16.14)
2. Ayele Abshiro (Ethiopian Banks) 22:17 (22:16.67)
3. Hunegnaw Mesfin (Ethiopian Banks) 22:17 (22:17.33)
4. Dejen Gebremeskel (Ethiopian Banks) 22:19 (22:18.51)
5. Feyissa Lelisa (Defence) 22.19
6. Emane Merga (Defence) 22.20
8km Senior Women
1. Gelete Burka (Prisons Police) 25.15
2. Koreni Jelila (Defence) 25.17
3. Mestawet Tufa (Omedla) 25.21
4. Asselefech Mergia (Omedla) 25.22
5. Genet Getaneh (Prisons Police) 25.40
6. Wude Ayalew (EEPCO) 25.41
12km Senior Men
1. Abebe Dinkessa (Prisons Police)
2. Demesew Tsega (St. George)
3. Gebregziabher Gebremariam (Ethiopian Banks)
4. Habtamu Fekadu (Defence)
5. Zenbaba Yegezu (St. George)
6. Solomon Tsige (St. George)
7. Dereje Regassa (Defence)
8. Tadesse Tola (Prisons Police)