SEVILLE, January 19 – Leonard Komon and Linet Masai captured victories in convincing fashion at the 28th ‘Cross Internacional de Itálica’ – the fifth leg of this season’s IAAF Cross Country Permit series – held last weekend.It was a perfect cross country session for Kenya as they took a clean sweep of medals at both categories, men and women despite the presence of Ethiopia’s reigning world champion Gebre-egziabher Gebremariam and – on the women’s side – 2008 European XC champion Hilda Kibet of The Netherlands. The Ethiopian ace had a below par performance and finished a distant sixth 49 seconds behind the winner.
Komon, who turned 22 last Sunday, gave Kenya its first win here since Abraham Chebii’s 2002 success while Masai kept the victory in Kenyan hands after last year’s win by Florence Kiplagat.
Komon, back to winning mood
It was Komon’s first victory on the current Cross Country season following a runner-up spot in Llodio (22 Nov) and a third place in Alcobendas (6 Dec). The young Kenyan missed the bronze medal at last March’s Worlds in Amman by barely one second and today’s outcome suggests he’s on the right path to make the podium as he did in Edinburgh two years ago.
The men’s 10,800m contest opened quite cautiously and for the delight of the crowd the Spanish contingent of Javier Guerra, Carlos Castillejo – both members of the team which took team gold at the European XC championships in Dublin – World indoor 1500m bronze medallist Juan Carlos Higuero and European U23 5000m champion Mohamed Elbendir were in charge of the race for the first kilometres.
It was with ten minutes on the clock that the African armada went to the front in the guise of Kenya’s Lucas Rotich and Mathew Kisorio and by halfway only Gebremariam and Uganda’s Moses Kibet managed to remain in their footsteps.
Kisorio’s front tactics paid dividends and Gebremariam lost ground at the 6000m point for the surprise of everyone assembled while Komon had joined the leading group coming from behind.
At the bell Komon unleashed a change of speed and just Kisorio – 6th in Amman last year – could respond; the Kenyan pair knew each other pretty well as Kisorio took World Junior bronze in Mombasa 2007 while Komon had to settle for fourth on that occasion.
The key movement came with 400m left when Komon broke away with ease from his compatriot and romped home in 31:14 building a five seconds gap on Kisorio, himself 10 seconds ahead of Rotich to complete a 1-2-3 for Kenya.
The domestic battle to be first Spaniard home witnessed Carlos Castillejo’s supremacy in eighth from Sergio Sánchez, both getting the better of European XC champion Alemayehu Bezabeh, who completed a quality top-ten.
Komon declared: “Last year, as a reigning World silver medallist I came only sixth here and so my target was to shine here this year. I’ll next race in Elgoibar (Spain) next Sunday (24 January) where I first won a top senior race in 2008.”
Masai a class act again – Women’ race
Kenyan successful journey had begun with the women’s 8000m race. Not even the late addition of the 2008 European XC champion Hilda Kibet of The Netherlands had changed a bit the forecast given the presence of Kenya’s World Cross Country silver medallist Linet Masai.
With the clock reading nine minutes it became clear that, barring disaster, the final podium would consist of Masai and her fellow Kenyans Pauline Korikwiang and Ann Karandi Mwangi, the latter two fresh from their victories in Fuensalida and Amorebieta, respectively, as Kibet, who had set the early pace for the first kilometre – dropped soon from the leading triumvirate.
The still 20-year-old Masai was never headed by her teammates and by the fifth kilometre her long legs began to power along with her adversaries while World Junior 2006 champion Korikwiang easily got rid of Mwangi once Masai injected her lethal pace to repeat her runner-up from last year.
The closing 11 minutes became a magnificent demonstration by Masai who strengthened progressively her leadership to such an extent that no less than 29 seconds (25:54 vs 26:23) was her winning margin; on a statistical note Masai’s average advantage over her closest rival this XC season is a stunning 35 seconds figure as she built a massive 47-second gap in Llodio and a 28-second victory in Soria.
It’s also worth mentioning that Masai ran 20 seconds faster that last year’s victor Kiplagat – the World champion two months later – on a muddier circuit.
At the finish line, the first six were Kenyan-born athletes – Hilda Kibet (NED) being fourth – while Adriënne Herzog also of The Netherlands recorded a fine seventh spot three seconds clear of Hungary’s Aniko Kalovics in the fight for the European preeminence.
Masai was quoted as saying: “It was my first appearance here and I’m delighted to succeed at an IAAF permit like this. I’ll compete at the Police championships next week and I’ll also contest the Kenyan trials on 28 February prior to the Worlds in Bydgoszcz.”
Asked on her chances there, a cautious Masai said: “After my silver from last year I’m only thinking about winning but I don’t know how my rivals’ build-up is going so we’ll have to wait and see what happens.”
Men (10,000m) –
1. Leonard Komon, KEN 31:14
2. Mathew Kisorio, KEN 31:19
3. Lucas Rotich, KEN 31:35
4. Moses Kibet, UGA 31:45
5. Michael Kipyego, KEN 32:02
6. Gebre Gebremariam, ETH 32:03
7. Mark Kiptoo, KEN 32:06
8. Carlos Castillejo, ESP 32:24
9. Sergio Sánchez, ESP 32:30
10. Alemayehu Bezabeh, ESP 32:42
WOMEN (8000m) –
1. Linet Masai, KEN 25:54
2. Pauline Korikwiang, KEN 26:23
3. Ann Karandi Mwangi, KEN 26:35
4. Hilda Kibet, NED 26:44
5. Grace Momanyi, KEN 26:50
6. Viola Kibiwot, KEN 26:52
7. Adriënne Herzog, NED 26:52
8. Aniko Kalovics, HUN 26:55
9. Milka Chemos, KEN 27:04
10. Mariya Konovalova, RUS 27:07