Ethiopia’s Gebreegziabher Gebremariam and Kenya’s Linet Masai confirmed their roles as overwhelming favourites to capture victories in convincing fashion at the 16th ‘Cross Internacional de Soria’ – the second leg of the this season’s IAAF Cross Country Permit Meetings series - held on this cold Sunday afternoon (29).
In doing so, the reigning men’s World Cross Country champion and the current women’s World 10,000m gold medallist continued their respective rolls on European soil with a hat trick of wins for Gebremariam in a busy November while Masai succeeded by a huge margin as she did last Sunday in Llodio.
But also the event’s attention rested on the top Europeans’ performances thinking of the continental championships to be staged in Dublin, Ireland, in two week’s time. In that respect, Spain’s Sergio Sánchez and Portugal’s Ines Monteiro catapulted themselves into one of the favourite spots as both performed superbly finishing second in their respective contests.
Gebremariam wins, Sánchez impresses - Men’s race
The men’s 10,000m competition provided a fantastic spectacle with all the necessary ingredients to make the crowd enjoy: a reigning World champion and an array of top Spaniards in form fighting for the podium ahead of a bunch of top Africans.
The early stages witnessed Ethiopia’s Mesfin Hunegnaw (10th at last Worlds in Amman) in charge of the race although it was Eritrea’s Kidane Tadese who made a first selection after increasing the rhythm in the fourth kilometre.
For a while only Gebremariam and Hunegnaw managed to follow in Tadese’s footsteps and this trio opened a short gap on a quintet comprising Uganda’s Boniface Kiprop and Spaniards Sánchez, Ayad Lamdasem, Javier Guerra and Javier López.
But the quintet soon joined the leading triumvirate and then the 27-year-old Sánchez – 4th placed at last European indoor championships in Turin over 3000m – defied the rest of the group by unleashing a powerful attack which was only responded to by Gebremariam. By then the clock was reading 18m and the astonished fans saw how two in-form Africans such as Kidane Tadese and Hunegnaw Mesfin rapidly lost ground.
At the bell (2000m left) Gebremariam and Sánchez took turns at the top while Tadese, Mesfin and Lamdassem travelled 10 seconds behind. Given Gebremariam’s effortless face the only question mark was when he would decide to make his move to win and it finally came 600m before the finish line when the 25-year-old ace changed his gear to romp home unopposed - and greeting the crowd - in 30:21 while the surprise Sánchez hold off the late challenged launched by Lamdassem to take second seven seconds behind the winner but three clear of his fellow Spaniard.
Two local athletes on the podium in the absence of Alemayehu Bezabeh – who is in a two-week high altitude stint in Ethiopia before the Europeans – suggests Spain should kick off as the squad to beat in the countries competition in Dublin.
The victor said: “I arrived in Soria last Monday so I could get accustomed to the cold; my pre-race tactic was to run conservatively in the first half and only test myself over the final two laps. Honestly, I didn’t know Sergio Sánchez and it surprised me he had managed to stay with me for so long. Should he performs like today, Sánchez would have wide options to medal in Dublin.”
Masai a class act – Women’ race
Not even the late addition of Portugal’s European XC bronze medallist Ines Monteiro changed a bit the forecast of the women’s 8000m contest given the presence of Kenya’s World cross country silver medallist Linet Masai.
However, the 29-year-old Portuguese – who notably took second and third spots last weekend in Oeiras (Saturday) and Llodio (Sunday) respectively set a very quick pace and only Spain’s Rosa Morató in second and Masai in third lived with her pace before the 1000m point.
Unlike last Sunday in Llodio, a relaxed Masai preferred to run on her rival’s shoulder for much longer before pulling away from them with ease. With ten minutes on the clock, the gifted Kenyan already ran in second just behind Monteiro leaving Morató in third albeit the Spaniard soon lost touch from the leading pair and had to run in solitude for the race of the rest.
Shortly after halfway (13:50 on the clock) Masai injected a brisker pace to open a 50m margin on Monteiro in a matter of one minute and with one lap remaining the 19-year-old Berlin 10,000m champion had extended her leadership to 15 seconds on Monteiro who was another 100m clear of Morató.
At the finish line no less than 28 seconds separated the first two while Morató finished another 27 seconds in arrears.
“I found it difficult to get into the race; I think it was due to the cold,” Masai said.
“Bit by bit I felt better and better although Monteiro’s early pace surprised me a lot. The last two laps became a fine test for me; I’m very grateful to the crowd for their ovation when I romped home,” added Masai who now returns to Kenya.
Emeterio Valiente for the IAAF
Leading Results: Men (10km) - 1. Gebre-egziabher Gebremariam, ETH 30:21 2. Sergio Sánchez, ESP 30:28 3. Ayad Lamdassem, ESP 30:31 4. Hunegnaw Mesfin, ETH 30:32 5. Kidane Tadese, ERI 30:54 6. Javier Guerra, ESP 31:02 7. Javier López, ESP 31:10 8. Boniface Kiprop, UGA 31:13 9. Manuel Penas, ESP 31:28 10. Antonio Jiménez, ESP 31:29
Women (8km) - 1. Linet Masai, KEN 27:06 2. Ines Monteiro, POR 27:34 3. Rosa Morató, ESP 28:01 4. Iris Fuentes-Pila, ESP 28:31 5. Ana Días, POR 28:36 6. Alessandra Aguilar, ESP 28:39 7. Bouchra Chaabi, MAR 28:42 8. Sonia Bejarano, ESP 28:49 9. Alba García, ESP 28:55 10. Estela Navascués, ESP 29:13