Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Great Edinburgh Cross-Country International – Holyrood Park, Edinburgh – Sat 12th Jan, 2008. (written for Running Fitness 01/08).

Edinburgh’s dress-rehearsal for the forthcoming IAAF World Cross-Country Championships in March passed with flying colours, as the Scottish capital provided an exhilarating day’s action, supported by superb organisation and entertainment, and witnessed a plethora of first-class performances, writes Nicola Bamford.

The historic Holyrood Park was the setting for race five of the eleven-event 2007/8 IAAF permit series; poised with the traditional amusement of bagpipes and customary wintery conditions. The firm underfoot conditions and testing inclines around the illustrious extinct volcano, ‘Arthur’s Seat’ on ‘Haggis Knowe’ hill, failed to prevent the World’s elite from exerting their usual aptitude and top of the class was Ethiopia’s multiple World and Olympic Champion, Kenenisa Bekele and fellow countrywoman, Geleta Burka. The star-attraction, with an inspired breakthrough performance far beyond her tender 18 years, was Britain’s Stephanie Twell.

Looking comfortable throughout the men’s 9.3km route, the 25 year-old Bekele, waited patiently until the final incline before unleashing a devastating kick on the sharp descent, to leave arch-nemesis, Zersenay Tadesse in his wake – somewhat of a redemption since tasting defeat from the 2007 World road running Champion at the World cross in Mombasa last year.
The ten-times global cross-country victor thus captured his third consecutive win for the Nova International-organised event; indicating his strong capability to take the World crown once more when he returns to Edinburgh for the March 30th event. “It was a fantastic race, a very fast race,” the triple World 10km Champion explained, “I am very happy to win for a third time and now I am confident for the World cross-country.”

The 200-plus enthusiastic Eritrean supporters could not lift their hero to glory, although the Olympic 10,000m bronze-medallist did threaten the lead on several occasions during the gripping contest; eventually coming home a mere second adrift of his Ethiopian rival and fractionally ahead of the World 5,000m runner-up, Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya. “It was a good race, especially as there were so many Eritreans here supporting me,” revealed the reigning World cross winner.

Such was the fanatical hype surrounding him, the ever-smiling 25 year-old had to be sped away from the finish-line to the safety of the elite athletes’ tent; “It makes me very proud and happy,” said the athlete who had previously admitted that his fans cause him to feel more pressure than his illustrious competitors.

Kipchoge meanwhile; the 23 year-old Olympic 5,000m third-placer, voiced his disappointment; “I felt ok – I’m happy with the result but I wanted to win.” Kipchoge headed a group of five after the mid-point followed by Joseph Ebuya, Bekele, Tadese and American Dathan Ritzenhein.
At the bell, the four lead African runners took contention, with Ritzenhein a couple of metres adrift. Tadese was the first to make a move; powering away to the front in a downhill section, however Bekele ominously ghosted alongside, before quickly opening up a five-metre lead, as he floated down the hill and into the finish.

In spite of finishing the men’s 9.3km route just over a minute behind the king of the mud larks, Britain’s Frank Tickner showed no fear around his African rivals to throw himself into the mix of such rare, high-calibre company; crossing the finish-line in ninth-place overall and becoming the top European.

The 24 year-old Wells City Harrier thus celebrated the finest achievement of his young career to date, following several national domestic victories; “I’m absolutely ecstatic! I executed the race well and had a great finish,” the reigning English cross-country Champion, “Top 10 – I’m very happy! I had a good passage of training over Christmas but now I’m back at work (in foreign logistics), so it’s a different story. I’ll do the World cross trials and see how I go,”

2012 hopeful, Steph Twell flew through her master class of senior international competition, to scorch to an outstanding fourth-place overall; destroying her older, continental counterparts. The 18 year-old Aldershot, Farnham and District runner; with two European junior cross-country titles to her name, made light work of the toughest race of her young life and even momentarily took the lead against an established world-class field. “I really enjoyed the race! I thought it was superb. I got a lot of inspiration from the race, as I had visions of racing Championships on the track when I’m older,” exclaimed the delighted youngster.

The confident, modest teen challenged 2006 World short-course cross-country Champion, Geleta Burka for lead at the mid-way stage and ran strongly to the line; missing the podium by inches, behind World 5000m silver-medallist, Vivian Cheruiyot of Kenya. “It was good to get the experience and learn from their tactics,” explained the European junior 1500m runner-up, “It gave me a huge boost being so close to them!”

Burka and the World junior cross-country Champion, Linet Masai – 18 - comfortably strode away in the final two laps, before the 21 year-old Ethiopian charged ahead to cruise to a 15-second victory – her third in as many consecutive attempts.

Now, evidently over an Achilies injury, Burka appears a serious contender for World cross-country glory this year. “The cold is different,” she said of the icy weather faced in Edinburgh. “The injury is okay, and it is good to be a three-time winner.”

The ultra-consistent Aniko Kalovics of Hungary showed her arduous marathon training was no barrier to the speed required in the 6.7km test, as she strode home in 20:38 to place fifth overall. “It was a very undulating course. The field was very strong and I really wanted to be first European; I really fought for it,” recalled the 2003 European cross-country bronze-medallist from this Edinburgh course.

Liz and Hayley Yelling (GBR); the established marathon-runner and 2004 European cross-country Champion, respectively, took the third and fourth European spots, ahead of France’s Saadia Bourgalih Haddio. “I’m quite pleased – I felt good,” revealed Liz; Running Fitness’ very own Women’s Editor, “I’ll have a break now before the marathon training.” Hayley – an impressive winner of last weekend’s IAAF permit event in Belfast admitted “I didn’t feel my best but it was nice to run the World cross course.”

The men’s 4.4km was an entirely British affair, with World Championship 1500m finalist, Andy Baddeley taking the honours, ahead of European under23 cross-country third-placer, Andy Vernon and track specialist, Tom Lancashire.

Baddeley secured victory with a powerful late burst, after stealing the march in the final furlong. “The crowd was really good and I thought I ran well,” the Harrow AC British metric mile Champion recalled, “The last hill was really treacherous and they almost got away from me but I managed to finish strong. Next, I’ll do an indoor mile in New York, followed by a 3km in Boston before eight-weeks’ training in South Africa.” English under 23 5000m Champion, Vernon started conservatively and reacted diligently as the pace increased; “I got in a good position then just went for it! I knew Andy had a good kick so I sprinted as fast as I could. I hoped for top-5, so second’s a surprise!”

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