(© Mark Shearman)
In the snow and ice of Holyrood Park today at the BUPA Great Edinburgh International Cross Country Ethiopia’s Kenenisa Bekele was defeated by Kenya’s Joseph Ebuya in shocking fashion, whilst Tirunesh Dibaba ran majestically to win the women’s race with ease to reassert her dominance ahead of the World Cross Country Championships in Poland this March.
BUPA Great Edinburgh International Cross Country is the fourth of twelve IAAF XC Permit races in the 2009/10 season
MEN – 9km
Despite not having raced since the end of last summer’s track season in which he had become the first man in history to win the World Championship 5000m and 10,000m track double, Bekele spoke confidently before today's race about the prospect of adding a fourth Great Edinburgh International Cross Country victory to his resume of appearances in the city.
The 27-year-old multiple World and Olympic champion and World record holder was a hot favourite to triumph alongside Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya, the 2005 race winner, with the last-minute withdrawal of Ethiopia’s reigning World Cross Country Champion Gebre Gebremariam seeming to make the task easier for these two established stars.
But in the freezing weather conditions that prevailed in Edinburgh, making it hard for competitors to reach the city let alone race on its snow surfaces, no one had taken into account the grit and tenacity of two young Kenyans, Joseph Ebuya and Titus Mbishei, who caused a huge surprise by breaking Bekele, the eleven-time World Cross Country champion after just thirteen minutes of the 9km race had been run.
Together this duo dominated the race with Bekele left trailing as an ‘also ran’ in their wake, as Ebuya, 22, who finished fourth here in the 2008 World Cross Country Championships (behind Bekele), and Mbishei, 19, last year’s World Junior XC runner-up, worked together in inseparable fashion until the last lap.
With an unassailable 100m lead over their better-known compatriot, Kipchoge, the 2003 World 5000m champion, and another 10m ahead of Bekele, the youngsters glided over the undulating course to take the scalp of the greatest cross country runner the world has ever seen.
Ebuya, running the race of his life effortlessly broke away on the final circuit to take a two-second win over Mbishei, whilst Kipchoge finished in third.
Ebuya, 2006 World Junior 10,000m runner-up said of his surprise victory; “Bekele is very strong, as is Kipchoge so I’m hoping with sustained training back in Kenya I can get through the (Kenyan) trial (for the World Cross Country Championships)."
"Today was a very good day for me; I prayed to Jesus and I thank him. I hoped he would help me to do well there.”
Despite appearing not to suffer in the conditions, Bekele looked deflated and despondent; never able to match the front runners. Explaining how in the last few days he had made a journey to visit the London 2012 Olympic site, and then because of the cold weather had then encountered poor training conditions in Edinburgh for the four days prior to the event, Bekele said:
“The weather was a bit difficult and being here so long before the race, I didn’t train well and missed some training. My training has been good but missing training isn’t good. I didn’t expect the weather to be like this; it was very new and strange for me. It was just not my day.”
WOMEN – 6km
Hayley Yelling tried to replicate the brave front-running tactics that saw her capture the European Cross Country title last month, taking today's sterling international field by the scruff of the neck from the gun but on this occasion the plan was not to work out to the same successful conclusion.
The 35-year-old British maths teacher – only three months back into training following her year-long retirement from competition - bravely threw down the gauntlet over the 6km route to the double Olympic champion and four-time senior World Cross Country champion, Tirunesh Dibaba of Ethiopia.
This duo composed the lead pack along with Kenya's World 5000m champion Vivian Cheruiyot, Dibaba’s countrywoman Kalkidan Gezahegn, and Britons Steph Twell and Jess Sparke during the first half of the race in the Scottish capital.
Looking fluid and strong in her first competition since setting a World 15km Road Running record** in November, Dibaba bided her time sheltering in the pack for much of the race before stretching out from the bell to break away in her usual dominant fashion.
Chased home by Cheruiyot, her main rival for the win, and Gezahegn, the 24-year-old maintained her relentless rate and opened up a comfortable winning advantage showing no signs of struggling in the snowy conditions at which she is unfamiliar.
With Ethiopia celebrating Christmas on 7 January, Dibaba, who had to prepare for the race in Edinburgh away from her family, ultimately presented herself with the perfect festive gift of a splendid ten-second victory.
Dibaba, who prevailed here in the 2005 event and later took the 2008 World title over the same course, said: “running in the snow was difficult and it took my body time to get used to it. I did not want to take any chances so I made my move later on. I am very happy to win and will now go home to celebrate then do some indoor races before the World Cross Country Championships (in Bydgoszcz, Poland, 28 March).”
Cheruiyot ensured an Ethiopian one-two did not materialise by defending a late lunge from Gezahegn, the World junior 1500m silver-medallist. Early-leader, Yelling impressively maintained her prominent position in the chasing pack and pipped three-time European Junior Cross Country champion, Twell for fourth position on the line.
MEN – 4km
From the gun Mo Farah appeared determined to put his defeat in the European Cross Country Championships in Dublin last month behind him, establishing and holding a comfortable ten-metre advantage for the course of two of the three laps.
Farah and fellow Britons, Steve Vernon and Ricky Stevenson coped best with the slippery underfoot conditions, leaving reigning 4km champion Andy Baddeley – the Olympic 1500m 9th-placer trailing.
But Farah’s victory was not secure as biding their time until the final circuit, Vernon and Stevenson were not finished and they began to stabilise and then overhaul Farah’s advantage on the penultimate hill.
Then in attacking position the 21-year-old Stevenson - a specialist miler and 8th in the European U23 race in Dublin - produced a scintillating finishing kick to capture a surprise victory by three seconds over Vernon, with a tired Farah a further 5 seconds back, and defending title holder Baddeley distantly vanquished in seventh.
Nicola Bamford for the IAAF
**World record subject to usual ratification procedures
4km (all GBR)
1. R Stevenson 13:20
2. S Vernon 13:23
3. M Farah 13:28
4. T Lancashire 13:43
5. M Goose 13:45
6. M Draper 13:47
7. A Baddeley 13:54
8. R Russell 14:08
1. J Ebuya (Kenya) 28:41
2. T Mbishei (Kenya) 28:43
3. E Kipchoge (Kenya) 29:04
4. K Bekele (Ethiopia) 29:17
5. J-L Barrios (Mexico) 29:25
6. S Lebid (Ukraine) 29:51
7. C Thompson (GBR) 29:52
8. M Skinner (GBR) 30:01
1. T Dibaba (Ethiopia) 21:37
2. V Cheruiyot (Kenya) 21:47
3. K Gezahegn (Ethiopia) 21:48
4. H Yelling-Higham (GB) 21:51
5. S Twell (GB) 21:51
6. M Chemos (Kenya) 21:51
7. J Sparke (GB) 22:02
8. F Murray (GB) 22:19
…9, J Augusto (Portugal) 22:54