Fionnuala Britton lead Gemma Steel in Antrim (© Mark Shearman)
Antrim, Northern Ireland - Kenya's Mike Kigen led throughout as he claimed his third senior title in succession at today's 35th Antrim International - an IAAF Cross Country Permit meeting (20) - with Ireland's Fionnuala Britton taking the honours in the women's race.
Kigan turned in an excellent performance, despite strong winds and rain and heavy underfoot conditions over the 10.8km course. He posted a winning time of 34:48, with 28 seconds to spare over fellow countryman and World Youth silver medallist Patrick Mutunga (35:16).
There was a hat-trick of podium places for Kenya, with Bernard Rotich a further five seconds adrift in third spot (35:21).
Kigen's triumph ensures a 20th first place finish for an African athlete over the last 21 years of the Antrim event. Indeed the first five finishers today were all from Africa.
"I think today was the toughest of the three years," said Kigen after the race. "The second lap I had problems because of the rain. I was feeling the wind when I was coming from this side, it was tough.”
"When I start the race I normally push from the first kilometre, so that I can get a chance to be alone in front."
Kigen now turns his focus to Olympic qualification, following his last cross country event of the season.
"My objective is to train and try and make the Kenyan team for the Olympics. In Kenya to make the team it is difficult so I have to try harder.
"Then maybe this year I will try to run 58 minutes in the half marathon. My priority to run the 10,000m at the Olympics so there will be no more cross country races this season."
Joe McAlister was the first of the home athletes to cross the finish line in a time of 38:01, ten seconds ahead of Andrew Agnew.
Recently-crowned European Cross Country champion Fionnuala Britton was victorious in the senior women's event, clocking 19:32 over the 5.6km course..
Here in Greenmount spectators were gripped throughout the race by the intense battle between the 27-year-old Irish steeplechaser and her English counterpart Gemma Steel, whom she beat recently in Edinburgh.
It was neck and neck throughout this race, until Britton pulled away during the final lap to take victory, with seven seconds to spare.
"It was tough, a lot tougher than Edinburgh I think," she admitted afterwards. "It was similar in one way because it was the two of us together, but that muck made it tough.”
"There was a lot more running on the course in Edinburgh. Here there was a lot of ploughing through it.”
"In Edinburgh I gradually pulled away (from Gemma), where this time we ran together for a lot more of it, so it was tougher I suppose, mentally as much as anything.”
"Both of us are aware of the fact that there are people behind us. I suppose both of us are similar in a way, so if we get away we know we only have each other to battle against, where if we sit back and let others run the race we don't know what is going to happen.”
"I struggled in Seville last week, so I needed it this week. I suppose after one good race you forget about it quickly. One not so good race plays on your mind for a lot longer. This would get rid of last week."
Ethiopia's Birtuken Adamu claimed third place (19:54), with Breege Connolly the first of the Northern Ireland athletes home, clocking 21:54 for 13th place.
Coilin Duffy for the IAAF
1st. M Kigen (KEN) 34:48
2nd P Mutunga (KEN) 35:16
3rd. B Rotich (KEN) 35:21
4th. Y Tegegne (ETH) 35:37
5th F Tickner (GBR) 35:38
1st. F Britton (IRE) 19:32
2nd. G Steel (GBR) 19:39
3rd. B Adamu (ETH) 19:54
4th. M Bekele (ETH) 20:11
5th. M Waganesh (ETH) 20:28