Kenya’s Edinah Jebitok and Burundi’s Rodrigue Kwizera grabbed respective women’s and men’s race victories at the 41st Cross Internacional de Venta de Banos, the seventh Gold level meeting of this season’s World Athletics Cross Country Tour, on Sunday (19).
Competing in nice weather conditions in the small Spanish village, Kwizera faced strong opposition from Ethiopia’s Nibret Melak but maintained his winning streak this winter campaign, while Jebitok was an overwhelming victor, finishing head and shoulders clear of Ethiopia’s Likina Amebaw Ayel.
Jebitok in a class of her own
Following the last-minute withdrawal of Kenya’s Eva Cherono, the role of favourite in the women’s 7975m event turned to her compatriot Jebitok. The contest opened at a moderate pace, with Spain’s Carla Gallardo, Blanca Fernandez and Laura Luengo taking on the pacing duties, while 20-year-old Jebitok and Ethiopia’s Amebaw ran comfortably in the middle of the still large front group.
Some nine minutes into the race, the Kenyan decided to push a brisker pace and none of her rivals tried to follow in her footsteps. The 1500m specialist created a wide margin on Amebaw in a matter of a few strides and before midway it became clear that she would be the eventual winner on her first appearance on Spanish soil.
After a 7:08 penultimate lap, 12 seconds faster than the previous one, Jebitok went through the bell a massive 38 seconds ahead of Amebaw, herself a full minute clear of a quartet featuring the Spanish trio of Luengo, Fernandez and Beatriz Alvarez plus Turkey’s Emine Mechaal in what promised to be a stiff fight for the third place on the podium.
Despite her huge advantage, Jebitok never slowed and even strenghtened her position over the final circuit as she ran home 69 seconds ahead of Amebaw, who was a comfortable runner-up.
Attention then moved to the battle for third place, with Luengo pushing hard throughout the closing lap, trying to leave the others behind. She partially managed her goal as first Alvarez and then Fernandez lost contact, but Mechaal held off the Spaniard’s challenge and overtook her in the final stages to finish third, a full minute behind Amebaw.
The 10,575m men’s contest started quite conservatively, with 15 athletes still in the lead pack after the second kilometre. Spain’s Nassim Hassaous was in the lead, closely followed by all the main favourites. After the opening 6:49 2200m lap, Kwizera moved to the front with his compatriot Thierry Ndikumwenayo, Uganda’s defending champion Albert Chemutai, Melak and Eritrea’s Merhawi Mebrahtu in close attendance alongside the top Spaniards Hassaous, Carlos Mayo, Raul Celada and Adel Mechaal.
Following another 6:46 circuit, the 22-year-old Kwizera began to push the pace at midway and only Chemutai, Melak and Mebrahtu could live with his frantic speed. The leading quartet covered the following loop in 6:20, clearly ahead of Ndikumwenayo, Mayo and Hassaous.
Loyal to his trademark front-running tactics, Kwizera kept on pushing hard over the penultimate lap and the 18-year-old Mebrahtu began to lose ground, while Mayo got rid of Ndikumwenayo and Hassaous and was running in a lonesome fifth place. Kwizera’s relentless pace paid dividends again with the clock reading 25 minutes, as Chemutai began to falter and lose ground, while Kwizera and Melak reached the bell together after a 6:19 circuit. The closing lap witnessed a fierce battle between them, the Burundian always at the helm and increasing his speed progressively, and the Ethiopian running at his shoulder.
To add more drama to the thrilling showdown, Melak tried to take advantage of a tough sandy section some 350m from home and break away from Kwizera, but the in-form Burundian reacted immediately to regain the lead and open a sizeable gap over the Ethiopian.
At the tape, the winner was timed at 32:30 following a lethal 6:04 final lap, compared to Melak’s 32:37, while a distant Chemutai completed the podium another 27 seconds back. Mebrahtu kept Mayo at bay to finish fourth, some 19 seconds clear of the 26-year-old Spaniard.
Emeterio Valiente for World Athletics
1 Edinah Jebitok (KEN) 28:44
2 Likina Amebaw Ayel (ETH) 29:53
3 Emine Mechaal (TUR) 30:53
4 Laura Luengo (ESP) 30:55
5 Blanca Fernandez (ESP) 31:00
6 Beatriz Alvarez (ESP) 31:09
7 Carla Gallardo (ESP) 31:12
8 Isabel Barreiro (ESP) 31:23
9 Teresa Urbina (ESP) 31:24
10 Irene Pelayo (ESP) 32:25
1 Rodrigue Kwizera (BUR) 32:30
2 Nibret Melak (ETH) 32:37
3 Albert Chemutai (UGA) 33:04
4 Merhawi Mebrahtu (ERI) 33:21
5 Carlos Mayo (ESP) 33:40
6 Nassim Hassaous (ESP) 33:55
7 Adel Mechaal (ESP) 33:56
8 Thierry Ndikumwenayo (BUR) 34:02
9 David Bascunana (ESP) 34:02
10 Aaron Las Heras (ESP) 34:06