Rahel Daniel Ghebreneyohannes wins the Cross Internacional de Atapuerca (© Ricardo Ordonez)
The 17th Cross Internacional de Atapuerca, the fourth Gold standard meeting in this season's World Athletics Cross Country Tour, became an Eritrean party as first the unheralded Rahel Daniel Ghebreneyohannes and then Aron Kifle stamped their authority against very solid fields on Sunday (14).
Kifle stopped Rodrigue Kwizera of Burundi’s winning streak, while Daniel beat a strong Kenyan contingent and ended the long-standing Ethiopian dominance here.
Kifle keeps Kwizera at bay
The men’s 9000m contest didn’t open particularly fast, the early stages being dominated by local favourites Ouassim Oumaiz – the last winner here – and Carlos Mayo, while the main contenders ran comfortably tucked behind. After a 5:55 moderate opening 2000m loop, 12 men remained in the leading group with Kwizera moving to the front for the first time some 10 minutes into the race.
The pace was increasing and shortly after a 5:47 circuit, the 23-year-old Kifle took command to whittle down the leading pack to eight athletes, including Burundians Kwizera and Thierry Ndikumwenayo, Uganda’s Thomas and Joel Ayeko, and Spain’s Abdessamad Oukhelfen and Mayo.
Once Kifle upped the pace, the group became a single file of athletes and when the clock read 19 minutes the Eritrean managed to open a slight margin over the rest. Following a frantic 5:35 penultimate lap, Kifle had built a four-second advantage on a quartet featuring Kwizera, Thomas and Joel Ayeko, and Oukhelfen.
During the closing circuit Kifle’s lead was always within six seconds but his win never seemed in jeopardy. Way back, Kwizera easily got rid of both Ayekos and Oukhelfen to travel alone in second place for much of the lap. The Spain-based Burundian closed the gap over the final 300m but never threatened Kifle, who romped home in 25:33 to Kwizera’s 25:34, while Joel Ayeko beat Thomas after a thrilling sprint to complete the podium.
Daniel surprises the Kenyan armada
On the eve of the competition, an event presentation was attended by most of the marquee athletes. The group featured 10 men and 10 women and no one could imagine then than the eventual women's winner would not have been among them.
The first lap took 6:28, with a large group of 14 at the helm. Kenya’s Margaret Chelimo led in the early stages, closely followed by the rest of favourites, while two European athletes still remained in the group: Italy’s Nadia Battocletti and Spain’s Carolina Robles.
Just before half way, Chelimo’s relentless rhythm began to pay off and only four women managed to live with her pace. She was joined by her fellow Kenyans Nora Jeruto, Beatrice Chebet and Celliphine Chespol, plus the relatively unknown Eritrean Rahel Daniel Ghebreneyohannes, whose best performance is a 14:55.56 5000m clocking in the Tokyo Olympic Games semifinals.
After a couple of laps in the 6:20/6:25 range, it was Chebet who moved to the front before the bell and Chespol soon withdrew from the leading group. To the surprise of the crowd, the top Kenyan athletes Chebet, Chelimo and Jeruto had the threatening presence among them of Daniel and the race became the most intriguing in many years as all four athletes remained in contention with less than 100m to go.
Eventually the surprise was confirmed, and the Eritrean, who had never led the race, overtook the Kenyan triumvirate on the home straight to win in 25:03, just ahead of Chebet (25:04), while Chelimo was given the same time in third.
In the fight to be the first European athlete home, 12th-placed Battocletti got the better of Robles by 18 seconds, with the Spaniard another four seconds clear of Ireland’s Michelle Finn.
The winner will turn 20 two days after the race but it seems clear that she decided to start her birthday celebrations early in Atapuerca.
Emeterio Valiente for World Athletics
1 Rahel Daniel Ghebreneyohannes (ERI) 25:03
2 Beatrice Chebet (KEN) 25:04
3 Margaret Chelimo (KEN) 25:04
4 Nora Jeruto (KEN) 25:06
5 Celliphine Chespol (KEN) 25:18
6 Esther Chebet (UGA) 25:40
7 Meskerem Mamo (ETH) 25:47
8 Lucy Maiwa Muli (KEN) 26:02
9 Tiget Getnet (ETH) 26:03
10 Zerfe Wondemagegn (ETH) 26:08
1 Aron Kifle (ERI) 25:33
2 Rodrigue Kwizera (BUR) 25:34
3 Joel Ayeko (UGA) 25:36
4 Thomas Ayeko (UGA) 25:36
5 Abdessamad Oukhelfen (ESP) 25:44
6 Thierry Ndikumwenayo (BUR) 25:47
7 Abebe Ayana (ETH) 25:51
8 Carlos Mayo (ESP) 26:04
9 Hosea Kiplangat (UGA) 26:08
10 Yemane Hailesilassie (ERI) 26:12