ERITREA’s Teklemariam Medhin captured a brilliant victory at the 33rd Cross Internacional de Italica – the second Spanish leg of this season’s IAAF Cross Country Permit series – on Sunday (18) held under gruelling conditions with rain, gusts of wind of up to 60km/h and underfoot mud in some areas of the circuit.
In doing so, world cross-country bronze medallist Medhin became the first Eritrean to win in Seville; even his illustrious training mate Zersenay Tadese could do no better than second place back in 2008.
Medhin ran tucked behind Kenya’s 2013 victor Jairus Birech throughout the race before unleashing his final attack 850m before the finish.
Medhin Shows Stellar Form
The men’s 10.8km contest kicked off at a brisk pace right from the gun despite, the wind hampering athletes’ efforts dramatically. By the second kilometre seven men remained in contention, Turkey’s Polat Arikan being the only European among them.
It was Birech, the Diamond Race steeplechase winner, who made most of the early pace, along with his compatriot and defending champion Paul Tanui plus Uganda’s world junior 10,000m champion Joshua Cheptegei. Meanwhile, Medhin stayed in the middle of the pack, effortlessly moving along.
At midway, the leading group was down to five men: the Ugandan pair of Cheptegei and Timothy Toroitich, the Kenyan duo of Birech and Tanui plus Medhin. A third 2km loop of 6:03, powered by Birech – the fastest steeplechaser last year in 7:58:41 – left first Cheptegei, then Toroitich and later Tanui well behind. Some 19 minutes in, the race became a fierce battle between Birech and Medhin.
While the Kenyan tried several times to leave the long-legged Medhin adrift, the Eritrean ran comfortably at his shoulder. But the strong winds made Birech’s efforts virtually useless as sometimes it was difficult to simply run in a straight line. True to his style, Medhin didn’t give Birech a single turn.
The assembled crowd was wondering about Medhin’s tactics in the closing stages as he is a renowned strong finisher but his rival was an accomplished track runner. The question mark was answered some 850m from home when the Eritrean easily changed his pace, taking advantage of an uphill section to build a solid margin on Birech in a matter of a few seconds.
At the finish line, 11 seconds separated the first two while an interesting battle took place between Toroitich and Tanui for the minor place on the podium, the former finally prevailing by 10 seconds to take revenge from the 2011 world cross-country silver medallist Tanui, who beat the Ugandan to win here last year.
Today’s race was Toroitich’s seventh podium finish on Spanish soil this cross-country season, but the Ugandan – who finished fifth at the 2013 World Cross – will now return to his home country to prepare for this year’s World Cross.
The top-placed Spaniard was marathon specialist Javier Guerra in ninth.
“I’m in very good shape now and full of confidence,” said Medhin. “At the start of the season I ran in Atapuerca (fourth) and Soria (second) but I was short of form by then. I’ll next go to Elgoibar to continue my build-up for the World Cross Country Championships, which is my primary goal this year.”
LEADING RESULTS (MEN 10.8 Km)
1 Teklemariam Medhin (ERI) 32:27
2 Jairus Birech (KEN) 32:38
3 Timothy Toroitich (UGA) 32:49
4 Paul Tanui (KEN) 32:58
5 Joshua Cheptegei (UGA) 33:09