Monday, 17 January 2011

Snow Joke for Mo


REPORT – Bupa Great Edinburgh cross-country, Saturday January 8th, Holyrood Park, Edinburgh

[Britain’s Mo Farah and Kenyan duo highlight the snow-drenched revamped event]

Set in a picturesque white and sun-covered scene for the second year running, the annual Bupa Great Edinburgh cross-country – fresh from a facelift for this year’s event – saw a series of hot international action despite the freezing temperatures in Holyrood Park, writes Nicola Bamford.

In the fourth leg of the IAAF's 2010/11 permit season, an afternoon of thrilling battles provided three equally-impressive victories in the Scottish capital, following a revitalised format which included the introduction of the successful men’s International Team Challenge and bales of hay for further obstacles on the famous undulating Arthur’s Seat course.

Britain’s 2008 European cross-country champion Mo Farah proved that a recent training stint in Kenya has worked wonders for his form and confidence with a runaway win, whilst Kenyan duo Eliud Kipchoge and Linet Masai took their second victories in the city with similar dominance.

Men’s Short Race (4.2km) -

Kenyans Dominate with 1-2-3

Four years since the race last sported an international flare, three world-class Kenyans stole the show in an impressively-dominant display over the rutted, icy course, which was specially adapted to a faster route for this 2.5-mile event.

With fine memories from his previous competitive visits to Edinburgh and boosted by the recent birth of a new addition to his family, 2008 Olympic 5,000m silver-medallist Kipchoge asserted his authority in the second half of the race to add to his 2005 victory.

The 2003 World 5,000m champion – who has also finished runner-up in the long-course event here – started conservatively in around seventh place behind Brits Ricky Stevenson, Steve Vernon and Mike Skinner until gradually hitting the head of the field at the one-minute mark.

Stevenson - the 2010 winner in the then domestic-only race – had intentions of making his presence felt from the fore after finishing a slightly disappointing ninth in the European under-23 cross-country championships in Portugal last month and the 22-year-old New Marske Harrier knew he had a battle for domestic supremacy on his hands courtesy of the inclusion of two-time runner-up Steve Vernon.

Indeed, the former 4km cross-country champion was a man on a mission following an illness-induced below-par run at the European trial in Liverpool last November, forcing him to miss out on selection for the continental championships.

Having placed an impressive ninth in the Brussels international prior to Christmas however, the Stockport Harrier was back in form and determined to give Stevenson a run for his money.

Three minutes in, Vernon began to apply the pressure with no fear of his African counterparts as he ran shoulder-to-shoulder with Kipchoge – also the Commonwealth 5,000m silver-medallist and Asbel Kiprop – the 2008 Olympic 1500m and 2007 World junior cross-country champion.

At the four-minute stage, Vernon – after only reaching his hotel at 11pm the evening before and having not slept much due to eating so late – again pushed the pace and momentarily held a slight advantage, as the Kenyan duo and Stevenson and Commonwealth 1500m eighth-placer Tom Lancashire of Bolton held the rear of the leading group.

Approaching the half-way mark heading up to the daunting hill Arthur’s Seat, the three African middle-distance men injected a sudden change of pace which only Vernon could hang onto.

On the descent, Kipchoge had established a comfortable three-metre lead from Kiprop, whilst Brimin Kipruto – the 2008 Olympic and 2007 World 3,000m steeplechase champion - was feeling the pressure of Vernon and Lancashire close behind.

These same positions remained at the bell signalling one final lap to go and nine-minutes in, Kipchoge still enjoyed an easy margin on his chasers.

Approaching the only yet thigh-bursting hill, the leader stretched his winning margin to fifty-metres and as Kiprop fell backwards to Kipruto, he maintained a relentless, aggressive pace until the tape to taking the top-spot by six-seconds – 13:12 to Kiprop’s 13:18 and Kipruto a further second adrift.

The outgoing, modest victor said afterwards:

“My training’s been very good so I have had high expectations for this race. Having the best at 1500m and the steeplechase as well as the best from Europe and the UK, I knew it would be a good field but I am happy to win.”

With his schedule next taking him to Stuttgart to race indoors over 3,000m, he concluded:

“The snow was really challenging, we don’t experience anything like this and the cold in Kenya. My aim was to maintain the fast pace and I’m happy my tactics succeeded. I may not do the World cross-country championships – I need to race indoors twice before thinking about the Kenyan trials for that.”

Having made strong ground in the final few hundred metres on the top trio to come home only two-seconds behind, Vernon was delighted with his efforts and looking forward to his forthcoming races:

“I wanted to be in the first three but first Brit was always the goal,” the Dave Turnbull-coached runner explained.

“Their track speed was just too much for me but it was a good run though and I’m happy. The race started slowly so I pushed the pace to let them know I was there to get away from the big kickers, as I usually get my arse kicked in the last 200m. If I’d have gone earlier, I might have taken one of them.”

Targeting the Northern and National cross-country championships as next on his list, Vernon continued:

“After the disaster in Liverpool, I needed the confidence boost which I got from Brussels. My coach, Dave Turnbull said don’t be afraid of anyone so I decided to lead and I was pleased I came back to them and felt strong on the hills.”

A further eight-seconds back in fifth place, 25-year-old Lancashire – the UK’s top 1500m on the track last summer – soundly beat reigning European 1500m champion Arturo Casado of Spain, with Stevenson just behind.

Women’s Race (6.2km) –

Victory for Masai, Breakthrough for Purdue

As expected, the three invited Africans comprising of two global champions and a world junior champion topped the medals podium yet the surprise of the day – albeit an inevitable breakthrough – was the fourth-place finish of Britain’s 19–year-old Charlotte Purdue.

Having used her usual tactics of gradually increasing the pace as the race progressed into the latter stages, Purdue’s stored energy was clearly evident in the final two kilometres as the recently-crowned European junior cross-country champion finished strongly to come within thirteen-seconds of third-placed Genzebe Dibaba – the world junior 5,000m champion and younger sister of multiple World and Olympic medallist Tirunesh.

Originally at the head of the field from the gun, marathon-specialist Liz Yelling made her cross-country return following the birth of her daughter in 2009 and Spain’s Alessandra Aguilar joined her with World 10,000m champion Linet Masai, World 5,000m champion Vivian Cheruiyot, Dibaba and Britain’s Hattie Dean and Gemma Steel closely behind.

It was only a matter of minutes until the three Africans began to assert their authority and Masai – the 21-year-old 2009 winner – led the way with her Kenyan team-mate Cheruiyot, a two-time runner-up and running in her fifth outing here for close company for pace-making duties.

Eight-minutes into the race, Steele, Purdue and Steph Twell lead the chasing pack with others also choosing to relinquish their early spots alongside the leaders – reigning European cross-country champion Jessica Augusto and Yelling, who began to suffer quite quickly after her sharp early tempo.

By the ten-minute mark, Dean – seventh in the senior race in Portugal and fourth in the European 3,000m steeplechase last summer – was on the shoulders of Masai and Cheruiyot and three minutes later, Purdue – fourth in the Commonwealth Games 10,000m last October – had suddenly made up good ground, settling 15-metres adrift.

With the second of three hill efforts cleared effortlessly with her long, elegant stride, Masai – a former World cross-country silver and bronze-medallist and runner-up here in 2008 – pulled two-metres clear to push hard in a long run for home as she increased her advantage to five-metres by the bell.

Ethiopia’s Dibaba reacted to the one-lap-to-go signal by closing in on Cheruiyot as Purdue took over the British lead from Dean, who fell five-metres behind her younger domestic rival.

With the final lap almost turning into a clear-cut victory circuit for Masai, Cheruiyot – the Commonwealth 5,000m winner lost her runner-up position to two-time World junior cross-country champion, Dibaba as the top three were separated by eight and four-seconds, respectively.
The victor simply said:

“I was not confident of winning because of my African colleagues were so strong – I thought it would be much harder but I managed to beat them.”

Relishing in her senior cross-country debut, Purdue pushed Dean into fifth and impressed by beating and challenging athletes many years her senior, yet the Mick Woods-coached Aldershot athlete took the experience all in her diminutive stride:

“I’m really happy with how the race went. All the races I’ve had as a junior were 4km but I find these longer distances suit me much better. I’ve been training really well but I only thought of finishing first Brit,” the St Mary’s university student explained.

“I’ve missed this race for the past two years with injury so I’m really happy just to be here. I held back on the first lap until I got warmer, I might have left it a bit too late to challenge for top three but today gives me great confidence, it’s a good learning curve.”

Purdue will next target the Cardiff and Antrim legs of the McCain UK Cross Challenge series before tackling the British university championship and her biggest aim of the winter, the World cross-country championships – in Spain in March.

Commonwealth 1500m bronze-medallist and fourth over 5,000m, Twell ran well to finish seventh just ahead of Yelling and Steel but after previous impressive performances akin to her training partners in this event, will be eager to work hard on her training trip to Kenya with Masai and Cheruiyot this month.

Sixteen-year-old Emelia Gorecka – another from Wood’s group – raised eyebrows by soundly beating last year’s Bupa Great North Run winner, Augusto in twelfth.

Men’s International Team Challenge (8km) –

The ‘Mo Show’ as Europe also impress

In a new format which pitted Team GB against the best of Europe and the USA and GB under23/under-20 squads, Britain’s 2008 European cross-country champion Mo Farah stole the show with an eye-catching display, leading his outfit to third place behind Europe and their visitors from across the Atlantic.

Taking a comprehensive nine-second victory from American Galen Rupp – fifth in the World indoor 3,000m - and European silver and gold-medalists Ayad Lamdassam and
Sergey Lebid, Farah paced himself at the pack of the leading pack before reacting brilliantly to Rupp’s mid-race surge on the steep incline to forge ahead to a runaway, popular victory.

At the gun, nine-time European champion over the terrain, Lebid headed the field with Britain’s Tom Humphries, and around the five-minute mark, the Ukrainian gestured behind to usher for some help with the pace, as Farah was settled back in tenth position.

Rupp meanwhile, sporting full-length tights for warmth, moved up to in third at eight-minutes in and soon after, the World 10,000m finalist was joined by Farah – the European 5,000m and 10,000m champion - in pulling clear of the pack up the second ascent.

With four minutes remaining just before the bell, Farah made a big effort for glory in this, his long-course debut in Edinburgh and the 27-year-old had soon established a fifty-metre winning margin over his American counterpart – who had been doing interval sessions in his sponsors’ Nike’s World HQ in Oregon due to bad weather - with Lamdassam and Lebid chasing hard further back.

Removing his hat to help the crowd recognise him down the finishing straight, the modest Londoner revealed his thoughts after a promising days’ work:

“I was happy with the win. It started off slow and I knew Galen and Sergey are great athletes so I intended to stay with them then wind it up at the bottom of the hill to try to pull away.

It was tough trying to stay on your feet as it was slippery – very different to running at Iten at 10,000ft – there was no snow there. Training’s gone well over the last few weeks and my last race was mega. I prefer track and road but cross-country makes you strong.”

Explaining that he intends to discuss his forthcoming racing plans with his (secret) coach shortly, Farah will next target the Birmingham indoor grand prix next month before tackling either the European indoor championships (in Paris in March) or the World cross:

“It would be nice to defend my indoor 3,000m title,” he said.

“I’m going out to train with Alberto Salazar in Albuquerque with Rupp and Dathan
Ritzenhein and it’s a good place to go as I’ll still be able to race out there - not like when I go to Kenya.”

Finishing a fine fifth as second Brit, Andy Vernon made a positive return to action after withdrawing from the continental championship with stomach cramps to finish shortly behind Lebid and soundly beat four strong European entrants.

Other Brits to impress included Ryan McLeod in eleventh and top British under23 Derek Hawkins in twenty-second place, shortly ahead of team-mate Ross Murray.

Europe took the team title with fifty points ahead of the USA’s fifty-three total, Team GB’s sixty-nine and the GB under-23/under-20 squad’s one hundred and sixty-four.

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