Milkesa Mengesha timed his race to perfection to lead an Ethiopian 1-2 finish in the U20 men’s race at the IAAF/Mikkeller World Cross Country Championships Aarhus 2019.
With Uganda’s Oscar Chelimo taking bronze, it was the first time since 1984 that Kenya came away from the U20 men’s race at the World Cross without an individual medal. Their third-place finish in the team standings was also their lowest since 1984.
The hotly-tipped Kenyan contingent seemed to struggle from the outset on the 7.728km course, comprising one lap of 1.972km, two laps of 1.872km and one lap of 2.012km. The temperature was slowly increasing but so too was the strength of the wind, making the climb up the Moesgaard Museum roof even tougher.
Uganda’s Samuel Kibet, surrounded by Ethiopia’s Mengesha, Tadese Worku, Tsegay Kidanu and Dinkalem Ayele, led through the first lap in 6:06. A large pack of 12 men were still together at the end of the second lap with double European champion Jakob Ingebrigtsen sitting at the back of the group.
A couple of minutes later, Worku and Mengesha upped the pace and whittled the group down to eight athletes as three-time European U20 cross-country champion Ingebrigtsen was among the runners to drop behind.
Worku, Mengesha and Kidanu continued to lead throughout the first lap, making easy work – relatively speaking – of the hills. Ugandan U20 cross-country champion Hosea Kiplangat was also in the lead pack alongside compatriot Oscar Chelimo and Kenyan trio Samwel Chebolwi Masai, Leonard Bett and Edwin Kiplangat Bett.
Mengesha had saved an extra gear for the final circuit, though, and soon broke up the lead pack. Worku followed a couple of seconds behind with Chelimo moving into third ahead of the Kenyan contingent.
The 18-year-old had narrowly missed out on medals at the 2017 World U18 Championships and 2018 African Cross Country Championships, but it was third time lucky for Mengesha in Aarhus as he powered towards the finish to win in 23:52.
With the finish line in sight, Chelimo put in a sprint finish but couldn’t catch Worku as the Ethiopian took silver in 23:54 to the Ugandan’s 23:55. A depleted Leonard Bett followed seven seconds later.
With four athletes in the top 10, Ethiopia comfortably retained their team title. Uganda took silver, their highest ever finish in a team competition at the World Cross, while Kenya had to settle for bronze. Ingebrigtsen, meanwhile, finished 12th in 24:39.
“It was a very difficult race,” said Mengesha. “I have never tried anything quite like this before, but I guess it’s the same for everyone, and that was what I kept telling myself. It was an amazing experience, and I would like to thank everyone out here, and of course my team. We train very hard for this, so it is very nice to bring them the gold.”
“I am not used to running cross country, so it was a surprise to finish this high,” added Chelimo, the bronze medallist. “My results from last year were a motivation to keep pushing, and I am so grateful now. Even though the route felt all uphill, this was amazing.”
Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF