Ethiopia’s teen phenomenon Tadese Worku and Kenya’s world 5000m silver medallist Margaret Chelimo captured convincing victories at the Cross Internacional de Itálica in Santiponce, near the Spanish city of Seville, the sixth leg of this season’s World Athletics Cross Country Permit series, on Sunday (19).
Held on a pleasant and dry afternoon with the temperature about 16C, the men’s 9.9km event didn’t kick off particularly fast as a large pack covered the opening two kilometres in 5:48, led by Worku, Burundi’s Thierry Ndikumwenayo and Eritrea’s world half marathon bronze medallist Aron Kifle. Surprisingly neither European cross-country champion Robel Fsiha of Sweden nor European cross-country silver medallist Aras Kaya of Turkey featured in the lead pack.
The following 1.95km circuit took a faster 5:26 with 11 men, including Spain’s Carlos Mayo, still in the heading group. The first serious move came with eight minutes on the clock when USA’s Olympic 5000m silver medallist Chelimo heated up the pace. Only three men – Worku, Kifle and USA’s Shadrack Kipchirchir – could live with his Chelimo’s speed while Kenya’s Richard Yator and Morocco’s world steeplechase bronze medallist Soufiane El Bakkali dropped from the leading pack.
After a 5:24 circuit, Worku and Kifle took turns in the lead and shortly afterwards, with 15 minutes on the clock, Worku easily broke away from the rest to cover the next loop in 5:20 to build a four-second margin on Kifle, himself another three seconds clear of the trio compounded by the US duo and Yator while El Bakkali and Mayo ran together way back.
The 17-year-old leader effectively ended the race during the penultimate loop when he opened a handsome margin on Kifle, who was 13 seconds in arrears by the bell with Chelimo and Yator 20 seconds behind Worku and Kipchirchir in fifth, 24 seconds adrift.
Covering the closing couple of laps in 5:18, Worku romped home unopposed in 27:31, holding a huge 100-metre margin on his chasers. Kifle seemed to be a safe runner-up during the final kilometre, but the World Cross fourth-place finisher began to falter dramatically in the closing stages and was overtaken first by Chelimo and then by Yator, the Eritrean having to settle for fourth place.
“I’m really pleased with the win, the circuit and the people,” said Worku. “I felt very strong throughout, as was the case last Sunday in Elgoibar. I’ll now return to my base in Addis Ababa where I train with Selemon Barega and Telahun Haile Bekele, among others.”
Worku, whose athletics idol is Kenenisa Bekele, has big goals for the 2020 track season: “I would like to make the national team for the Tokyo Olympics over 5000m.”
Chelimo in a class of her own
All the main contenders in the women’s 9.2km race set off conservatively, the lead group comprising the Kenyan quartet of world cross-country champion Hellen Obiri, world U20 cross-country champion Beatrice Chebet, world 5000m silver medallist Margaret Kipkemboi Chelimo, and Eva Cherono, plus the Ethiopian duo of World Championships 5000m fourth-place finisher Tsehay Gemechu and Tsige Abreha.
Chebet did most of the early pacing duties while Bahrain’s 2017 world marathon champion Rose Chelimo was never a factor and was some way behind the leaders from the second kilometre.
By halfway Chebet led with Obiri, Chelimo and Gemechu tucked behind, but just before the sixth kilometre Obiri seemed to be in trouble as she was five metres adrift of the leading three. Shortly afterwards, her chances of a podium finish appeared to disappear completely, much to the surprise of the crowd.
About 300 metres before the bell, Chelimo put in a surge and quickly built a sizeable margin on Chebet, Gemechu and Obiri, who ran in single file behind the world silver medallist. Over the final circuit a dominant Chelimo increased her advantage over her opponents with Obiri slowing down her pace considerably.
At the tape, the in-form Chelimo clocked 28:37 to take a commanding win 12 seconds ahead of Chebet, herself 11 seconds clear of Gemechu. Obiri, who later revealed she experienced some discomfort in her back, crossed the finish line limping, some 50 seconds behind the victor.
Emeterio Valiente for World Athletics
1 Tadese Worku (ETH) 27:31
2 Paul Chelimo (USA) 27:47
3 Richard Yator (KEN) 27:48
4 Aron Kifle (ERI) 27:55
5 Shadrack Kipchirchir (USA) 28:26
6 Carlos Mayo (ESP) 28:29
7 Soufiane El Bakkali (MAR) 28:53
8 Enyew Mekonen (ETH) 28:56
9 Thierry Ndikumwenayo (BDI) 28:57
10 Yemane Haileselassie (ERI) 29:13
1 Margaret Chelimo (KEN) 28:37
2 Beatrice Chebet (KEN) 28:49
3 Tsehay Gemechu (ETH) 29:00
4 Hellen Obiri (KEN) 29:27
5 Eva Cherono (KEN) 29:41
6 Tsige Abreha (ETH) 29:47
7 Rose Chelimo (BRN) 30:31
8 Muriel Coneo (COL) 30:49
9 Irene Sánchez-Escribano (ESP) 30:51
10 Kate Avery (GBR) 31:03