PUNTA UMBRIA, Spain, March 20- Ethiopian 5000m speedster, Imane Merga denied Kenya the perfect set and Holy Grail of World Cross Country running when he zoomed off with the finish in sight to seal a classy victory in the men’s 12km race.Merga, who won the men 5000m Diamond League honours last season, redeemed his country’s wounded pride in fine fashion when he sped away from Matthew Kisorio, Paul Tanui and Vincent Chepkok 150m from the tape to win in 33:50.
Fast finishing Tanui took silver two seconds behind as Chepkok, who won junior silver in 2007 in his only other World Cross appearance in Mombasa, came home in 33:53 for bronze. Kisorio who was spiked to an extent his right shoe had a huge hole finished fourth (33:55) as overwhelming favourite, Geoffrey Mutai, found the Spanish heat a difficult proposition as he closed the top five in 34:03.
Merga’s tactical run and brilliant finish brought a fitting end to the captivating Punta Umbria World Cross, the first of the competition that will now run after every two years.
Kenyans though paid the price of slowing the pace down in the early stages as Merga was the only Ethiopian with a shout for the medals with a kilometre to the finish and used his running pedigree in the track to ensure the individual gold whitewash witnessed last year in Bydgoszcz Poland would not be repeated in Spain.
Another pre-race favourite, Moses Kipsiro of Uganda who won bronze last year and silver a year before, finished 11th after the troublesome knee he brought to this championships failed to last the distance.
“I’m so pleased with the silver medal and it was God’s plan to get this chance to come here,” Tanui, who was included in the squad after Leonard Komon was dropped from the team, said.
Kenya retained the senior men team title but Joseph Ebuya’s triumph in the individual race last year that came after a decade long wait now seems to be a luxury as Merga continued his country’s strong tradition at the race with the 11th gold in the last 12 editions.
The race kicked-off as a shadow boxing contest with the main protagonists settled down to measure up each other with none committed to making the decisive move. The East Africans filled the lead positions until metres from the bell when Kisorio laid down the marker.
Merga, who had held the second position since the first lap, Mutai, Chepkok, Tanui and Bahrain’s Ali Hassan Mahboob trailed Kisorio through to the 11th kilometre. The tiring Kisorio beckoned to teammates to take over and it was the Ethiopian who responded by pulling level at the last log barrier before surging in front at the last bend to the stadium.
With the finish in sight, Merga injected an acceleration that left his challengers reeling in his slipstream as he raced for the tape to become the succeed 2009 winner, Gebregziabher Gebremariam, as the Ethiopian World Cross champion.