Kenya’s world cross-country champion Hellen Obiri and Ethiopia’s world U20 cross-country silver medallist Tadese Worku captured commanding wins at the 77th Cross Internacional Juan Muguerza, the fifth leg of the current World Athletics Cross Country Permit series, in the Spanish town of Elgoibar on Sunday (12).
The 17-year-old Worku was head and shoulders clear of his classy opponents, while Obiri prevailed by six seconds over compatriot Beatrice Chebet, the world U20 cross-country champion. In doing so, Obiri became the first woman to achieve back-to-back wins in Elgoibar since the contest became an international event in the early 90s.
The women’s 7.6km event started at a moderate pace (1:17 for the opening 400m on the track) led always by the double world 5000m champion Obiri with her compatriots Chebet, Eva Cherono and Bahrain’s Rose Chelimo tucked behind. Of those, 2017 world champion Chelimo was the first casualty as she couldn’t keep with the Kenyans’ pace after the first six minutes.
Obiri was timed at 7:00 for the first long lap and was never headed by Chebet who ran close to her illustrious compatriot but never surpassed her. Cherono lost ground during the penultimate lap, which Obiri and Chebet covered in a quicker 6:50. At the bell Cherono trailed the lead duo by nine seconds while Chelimo was a further 50 seconds adrift.
The key move came with about 1.5km remaining when Obiri easily broke away from her 19-year-old compatriot to retain her title in 25:10. Chebet, the world U20 5000m champion, took a comfortable second place six seconds behind. Cherono, who was eighth at the 2019 World Cross, completed the star-studded podium 38 seconds adrift of Obiri.
Chelimo was fourth in 26:40, five seconds ahead of Spain’s Irene Sánchez-Escribano, the first European finisher.
“I expected to win again this year so I’m very satisfied,” said Obiri, whose next outing will be at next Sunday’s Cross Country Permit in Seville, the Cross Internacional de Itálica. “I’ll train hard and will be ready for the Olympics, but I have to see how the season and my training develop before deciding whether I try to double (5000m/10,000m) there or I focus on a sole event.”
Teenager Worku wins against the odds
After a brisk start to the men’s race (1:06 for the opening 400m), Eritrea’s Aron Kifle took charge but he was closely followed by the rest of favourites: Ethiopian duo Worku and world U20 cross-country champion Milkesa Mengesha, USA’s Paul Chelimo, Kenya’s Richard Yator and Turkey’s Aras Kaya. Spain’s Toni Abadía and Carlos Mayo were also in the leading group by the third kilometre.
Shortly afterwards Worku upped the pace and his tactics soon paid off as only Kifle and Chelimo managed to stick with him. The young Ethiopian effectively ended the race with a frantic fifth kilometre which he covered in 2:50. He clocked 6:00 for the next 2.1km lap to swing the race even more in his favour as Kifle trailed by eight seconds with Yator and Chelimo another two seconds adrift.
Worku maintained his relentless speed on the penultimate loop and despite slowing down a bit (6:05) he increased his advantage to 18 seconds over Kifle and Yator, now running together, while Chelimo was a solitary fourth, another seven seconds behind that duo.
The knowledgeable crowd assembled on a perfect sunny day talked about the impressive solo run by Worku, who continued his dominant display to reach the tape 24 seconds ahead of Yator while Kifle had to settle for third after being beaten by the Kenyan in the closing 200m.
Worku, who has PBs of 7:43:24 for 3000m and 13:18.17 for 5000m, will also compete in Seville next weekend, one day before his 18th birthday.
Portugal’s Etson Barros and Lia Lemos earned the prestigious ‘Mamo Wolde’ Trophy by taking respective victories in the U20 events.
Emeterio Valiente for World Athletics
1 Tadese Worku (ETH) 31:39
2 Richard Yator (KEN) 32:03
3 Aron Kifle (ERI) 32:06
4 Paul Chelimo (USA) 32:22
5 Milkesa Mengesha (ETH) 32:48
6 Aras Kaya (TUR) 32:49
7 Toni Abadía (ESP) 32:53
8 Carlos Mayo (ESP) 33:07
9 Fernando Carro (ESP) 33:25
10 Soufiane Bouchikhi (BEL) 33:25
1 Hellen Obiri (KEN) 25:10
2 Beatrice Chebet (KEN) 25:16
3 Eva Cherono (KEN) 25:48
4 Rose Chelimo (BRN) 26:40
5 Irene Sánchez-Escribano (ESP) 26:45
6 Kate Holt (GBR) 26:51
7 Gema Martín (ESP) 27:12
8 Lauren Hall (GBR) 27:14
9 María José Pérez (ESP) 27:17
10 Cristina Ruiz (ESP) 27:20