Japhet Korir working his way towards victory (© Rosch Kohl)
Kenya’s youngster Japheth Korir and Ethiopia’s Almensh Belete reestablished East African supremacy at the ING Eurocross in Diekirch (Luxemburg) on Sunday (12).
The 18-year-old Korir won the 10.2Km race ahead of fellow countryman Albert Rop and Tasama Dame of Ethiopia. Almensh Belete, at the age of 22 also still very young for long distance running, took the 5.35Km women’s race from Etenesh Diro of Ethiopia and Moroccan Fatiha Benchatki. In the past two years there had been no winners from Kenya or Ethiopia in Diekirch, an IAAF Cross Country Permit Meeting.
Sunshine on a wintry day provided fine conditions for the race. With temperatures around zero Celsius the grass and sand course was still covered with snow and frozen. Up to 2000 spectators followed the various races in which about 500 athletes competed.
Men’s Race - Korir displays great finishing speed
In the men’s race eight runners formed an early lead group, but they did not stay together for long. After two kilometres Kenyans Korir and Rop increased the pace and it was only Dame who could hold on while the others dropped back significantly. Among them was last year’s winner Elabassi El Hassan of Morocco, who would eventually finish sixth with 31:32.31, almost a minute behind the winner. Onesphore Nkunzimana (Burundi), the three-time Eurocross record winner, was even further behind. He would ultimately have to be content with 12th place in 32:28.97.
While the bigger leading group had broken up early the other three stayed together to the final stages developing a thrilling race for victory. The pace increased again, and again and it was then Dame who could not hold on with 600 metres to go. Meanwhile Korir and Rop exchanged the lead a couple of times before the 18-year-old finally secured a narrow victory. The bronze medallist from the World Junior Cross Country Championships in 2010 clocked 30:34.03 while Rop crossed the line in 30:35.56. Dame followed in third place with 30:59.56. Running alone for long parts of the race Canada’s Reid Coolsaet showed a fine performance, taking fourth in 31:17.09. Abdelhalim Zahraoui (Morocco/31:23.00), El Hassan and Taye Damte (Ethiopia/31:35.47) followed while France’s Marathon specialist, Driss El Himer, was the best European finishing eighth in 31:42.84.
Women’s Race - fourth time a charm for Belete
In the women’s race a leading group of five were together for most of the contest. With four Africans involved – Belete, Diro and Shankutie Mestawot-Tadessa (all Ethiopia) plus Benchatki – it was a surprise that a German set the pace at the front of the group. Working hard Susanne Hahn, the winner of the Eurocross in 2006, took to the front. “I ran as best as I could today,” she said. But in the final lap the Africans surged ahead and dropped the German.
The decisive moment came with around 300 metres to go. Belete strongly increased the pace and was successful with a long sprint. The 22-year-old, who had placed second in Diekirch in 2009 (behind her sister Mimi) and 2010 and finished fourth last year, won in 18:25.75, followed by Diro (18:28.15) and Benchatki (18:29.78).
Mestawot-Tadessa (18:41.62) faded badly in the closing stages of the race, but she just managed to defend fourth place in front of a strong finishing Hahn (18:43.75). Sonja Roman of Slovenia took sixth place with 18:46.22.
“After having placed second two times I am very happy to have finally won in Diekirch,” said Belete.
Jörg Wenig for the IAAF