Eritrea’s Teklemariam Medhin confirmed his status of favourite to pull out a convincing victory at the 72th Cross Internacional Juan Muguerza, the sixth of this winter’s IAAF Cross Country Permit meetings, in the Spanish town Elgoibar on Sunday (25).
Unlike last weekend’s gruelling conditions in Seville, the sun shone on Elgoibar and there was little wind although some parts of the circuit were quite muddy due to the rain that had fallen throughout the week and even the night before.
The men’s 10.8km race kicked off at a frantic pace as the opening 400m lap on the track was covered in a brisk 1:01 by a quintet comprising of Turkey’s European champion Polat Arikan, Kenya’s Jairus Birech, Uganda’s 2014 IAAF World Junior Championships 10,000m gold medallist Joshua Chpetegei and the Eritrean pair of Medhin and Goitom Kifle.
To the surprise of the large and knowledgeable assembled crowd, Kenya’s Paul Tanui, the 2011 IAAF World Cross Country Championships silver medallist never joined the heading group and very quickly seemed to lose any chance to repeat his 2012 win here.
The leading pack kept on its quick pace with the first kilometre taking just 2:48.
The man making the pace was Birech while Medhin ran comfortably at his shoulder alongside Cheptegei, Arikan and Kifle.
The first 2.086km lap was timed 6:21, a pace which initially proved to be too fast for Kifle who lost ground but then managed to rejoin the leading group when Birech’s rhythm slowed down noticeably on the second loop, covered in 6:37.
At the midway point in the race, the heading five-man pack had built a 20-second advantage over a chasing triumvirate comprising of Tanui and the Spanish pair of Javier Guerra and Antonio Abadía.
Medhin makes his move
Midway into the closing lap, Medhin and Cheptegei moved to the front, leaving Arikan and Kifle ran 25 metres adrift while Birech started to fade after his courageous early effort.
With around 700 metres remaining, Cheptegei fell in the muddiest area of the circuit and despite the speed he showed in regaining the balance, and keeping on running, the long-legged Medhin pulled away to triumph by three seconds, while the unlucky Cheptegei was also overhauled by Arikan in a thrilling sprint finish for second place.
Medhin’s win meant completed a brilliant month with successive victories in San Sebastian, Seville and Elgoibar during January.
“I think I’m in the form of my life but I finished the Itálica (Sevilla) race really tired because of the tough conditions we faced there, and so this previous week has been very quiet and calm (while living) in Madrid.
“After 20 days in Spain, I will go back now to Eritrea as I have to contest our trials for the Worlds Champs in China. Definitely, that’s my primary goal in 2015,” commented Medhin.
Medhin confirmed: “After Guiyang, I’ll first run a half marathon but I don’t know yet where, then a 10,000m track race in Oregon on 30 May where I’ll try to better my 27:16.69 PB, thinking of the Bejing Worlds, where I’ll contest the longer track event.”
The big news came with his last statement. “After Beijing, I’ll begin my build-up for my marathon debut, my future is there.” However, he didn’t specify where he plans to make his debut over the classic distance.
Belete turns the tables after Seville defeat
On the women’s side, Bahrain’s Mimi Belete got the better of Kenya’s reigning world champion Emily Chebet.
By contrast to the men’s race, the women’s 6.62km contest started quite cautiously with 1:20 for the opening 400m.
It was Kenya’s 2013 IAAF World Championships 5000m silver medallist Mercy Cherono who set the rhythm for the first part of the race with her compatriot Chebet and Belete tucked in behind her.
By the second kilometre, this group led from another trio comprising Portugal’s Sara Moreira, Spain’s Diana Martín and Great Britain’s Lily Partridge.
Shortly after midway, Cherono began to give hints of tiredness, possibly after her hard race in Seville a week ago, and it became clear that either Chebet or Belete would probably conquer the top spot.
At the bell, Chebet and Belete had a handsome margin of 10 seconds over Cherono, herself 22 seconds clear of Partridge and Martín while a struggling Moreira was a lonesome sixth and another five seconds in arrears.
The 27-year-old Belete then broke away from Chebet in style to take revenge from the Kenyan who had beaten her in Seville, four second separating the pair at the end.
“It was my first performance in Elgoibar and I really enjoyed the race. The fact of defeating a twice-world cross country champion like Chebet is an enormous achievement for me, especially taking into account that she’s in great shape now,” said Belete.
“I’ll now return to Ethiopia (where she was born and still spends much of her time), I’ll train in Addis Ababa for the Worlds in Guiyang,” she added.
Running on her own, Cherono eased off the pace over the last few hundred metres to finish 33 seconds behind Belete but still 25 seconds ahead of Partridge, as the young Briton managed to get rid of Martín to become the fastest European home.
The next IAAF Cross Country Permit meeting will be the 50th International Cross Country Meet in Japan on 8 February.
Emeterio Valiente for the IAAF
1. Teklemariam Medhin (ERI) 33:02
2. Polat Kemboi Arikan (TUR) 33:04
3. Joshua Cheptegei (UGA) 33:05
4. Goitom Kifle (ERI) 33:06
5. Jairus Birech (KEN) 33:30
6. Paul Tanui (KEN) 33:45
7. Antonio Abadía (ESP) 33:49
8. Javier Guerra (ESP) 33:52
9. El Hassan Oubaddi (MOR) 34:10
10. Adam Hickey (GBR) 34:14
1. Mimi Belete (BRN) 22:09
2. Emily Chebet (KEN) 22:13
3. Mercy Cherono (KEN) 22:42
4. Lily Partridge (GBR) 23:07
5. Diana Martín (ESP) 23:15
6. Sara Moreira (POR) 23:35
7. Simret Restle (GER) 23:46
8. Sonia Bejarano (ESP) 23:48
9. Alessandra Aguilar (ESP) 23:54
10. Cristina Espejo (ESP) 24:29