Hiwot Ayalew wins at the Cross Internacional de Italica (© Alfambra Fundación ANOC)
Kenya’s Paul Tanui and Ethiopia’s Hiwot Ayalew captured respective victories at the 32nd Cross Internacional de Italica – the third Spanish leg of this season’s IAAF Cross Country Permit series – on Sunday (19) on a pleasant but windy day.
However, both 23-year-olds succeeded in different ways. World cross-country silver medallist Ayalew was tucked behind Kenya’s world 5000m silver medallist Mercy Cherono throughout the race before unleashing her final attack 800m before the finish
By contrast, world 10,000m bronze medallist Tanui secured a memorable win as he led from the gun and was never headed to finally destroy the stiff challenge of Uganda’s Timothy Toroitich’s over the final kilometre.
Cherono sets the pace but Ayalew prevails again
The women’s 8km contest opened conservatively with Spain’s Sonia Bejarano leading the early stages at a moderate pace. Last year’s winner Mercy Cherono stepped up the pace with the clock reading seven minutes only to be followed by the Ethiopian trio of Hiwot Ayalew, Alemitu Heroye and Trias Gebre plus Great Britain’s Lily Partridge, fresh from a creditable seventh at the Edinburgh Great Cross Country last week. Further back, Spain’s Diana Martin led the chasing group.
The leading group’s picture remained the same for much of the race with Cherono – eager to bounce back from her fourth-place finish in Elgoibar – always to the fore, the Ethiopian trio in the middle of the pack and the Briton closing the quintet.
Coming from behind, a brave Martin was about to join the leaders as she ran barely four seconds in arrears by midway, but shortly afterwards Cherono injected a brisker rhythm to leave behind Gebre and Partridge before the sixth kilometre.
By the bell, with 2.2km left, Cherono, Ayalew and world junior cross-country bronze medallist Heroye forged three seconds ahead of Gebre and Partridge, but the gap soon increased as Cherono pushed hard with Ayalew and Heroye always close behind.
The long-legged Ayalew first took charge of the race some 1.3km home, Heroye quickly covered her with Cherono now in third but the Kenyan soon seemed to be in trouble and lost ground over the final kilometre.
As had been the case the previous week, Ayalew broke away with ease from her talented fellow Ethiopian to clinch an unopposed five-second win from Heroye with Cherono another eight seconds adrift.
“It’s marvellous having this string of victories,” said Ayalew, the first Ethiopian winner since Gelete Burka in 2007. “It’s my fifth success in a row; I hadn’t ever had so many wins in a row at an international level.”
Impressive front-running by Tanui
In contrast to the women’s race, the men’s 10.8km contest kicked off at a frantic pace thanks to the early effort of Paul Tanui.
The 2011 world cross-country silver medallist was making his cross-country seasonal debut, but barely five minutes into the race it became clear that the Kenyan was in superb form. Before the second kilometre, only his countrymen Emmanuel Bett and Abel Mutai – plus the pre-race favourite Toroitich – could live with his pace.
Shortly after the 3km mark, Olympic steeplechase bronze medallist Mutai began to falter and so the podium seemed – barring disaster – to be decided in favour of Tanui, Bett and Toroitich. Remarkably, it was Tanui who dictated the rhythm for the whole race with the in-form Ugandan always in second and Bett closing the leading pack.
Before the midway point, the Spanish pair of Javier Guerra, 15th in the marathon at last year’s World Championships, and two-time European cross-country silver medallist Ayad Lamdassem caught Mutai while the leading triumvirate still had a ten-second lead over them.
There were no remarkable changes for the following five kilometres although Mutai couldn’t resist Guerra and Lamdassem’s consistent pace to fall to sixth place in solitude.
Successive 2km circuits were covered in 6:10, 6:17 and 6:16 and became too fast for Bett who couldn’t follow in Tanui and Toroitich’s footsteps and surrendered with 1.6km to go. From then on the only question remaining was: would Toroitich be able to become the second Ugandan victor in the history of the event after Moses Kipsiro or would Tanui extend the Kenyan dominance one more year?
Much to the delight of the large crowd assembled, Tanui – still in the company of Toroitich – maintained his relentless pace to build a sizeable margin of 12 seconds on Bett in a matter of 600m. The decisive movement came with 650m left when Tanui found another gear which at last proved strong enough to get rid of the Ugandan.
But Toroitich never gave up and threatened Tanui until the closing stages, their final clockings being 31:32 and 31:34 respectively, while a tired Bett completed the classy podium 22 seconds adrift.
There was to be no competitive sprint for fourth place as Guerra and Lamdassem shook their hands some 10 metres before the line as a signal of friendship, finishing 57 seconds in arrears.
“My manager Federico Rosa had warned me that both Toroitich and Bett were in fine form after their 1-2 in Elgoibar last week so I decided to run quite fast from the beginning, trying to leave them behind,” said a delighted Tanui. “It was not easy but I finally managed it.”
Emeterio Valiente for the IAAF
1 Paul Tanui (KEN) 31:32
2 Timothy Toroitich (UGA) 31:34
3 Emmanuel Bett (KEN) 32:54
4 Ayad Lamdassem (ESP) 32:29
5 Javier Guerra (ESP) 32:29
6 Roberto Alaiz (ESP) 32:36
7 Abel Mutai (KEN) 32:41
8 Miguel Ángel Barzola (ARG) 33:05
9 Ouais Zitane (MAR) 33:27
10 Jawuad Tougane (MAR) 33:29
1 Hiwot Ayalew (ETH) 27:18
2 Alemitu Heroye (ETH) 27:23
3 Mercy Cherono (KEN) 27:36
4 Trihas Gebre (ETH) 28:06
5 Lillian Partridge (GBR) 28:11
6 Lidia Rodríguez (ESP) 28:20
7 Diana Martín (ESP) 28:20
8 Chloe Richardson (GBR) 28:23
9 Marta Silvestre (ESP) 28:25
10 Iris Fuentes-Pila (ESP) 28:29