BEKELE LEAVES GREAT EDINBURGH XCOUNTRY A HAPPIER MAN THAN TWO YEARS AGO
The legendary Kenenisa Bekele may have been beaten yet again at the Great Edinburgh XCountry on Saturday, but the Ethiopian left in much higher spirits on this occasion despite finishing only fifth.
The USA's virtually unknown Garrett Heath, surprised his world class rivals winning the 4km a second ahead of Ethiopia's Meresa Kahsay in 11:51. The duo decisively defeated the defending champion Kenya's Asbel Kiprop who was third in 11:58.
For Heath, it was a second win ahead of Kiprop the double World 1500m champion who he got the best of last September at the Bupa Great North Mile on Tyneside, his sprinting speed again proving superior in the dash for the line.
"I never expected to win," said the 28-year-old who was seventh over 1500m at the 2010 World Indoor Championships. "I would like to do more cross country.
"It's been a long time, five years I think, since I last competed at the NCAA Cross Championships. Indoors has always come first."
But most eyes were on Bekele, who has won three times at the meeting since its relocation from the North East of England in 2005. Since those victories he failed to maintain winning form and suffered a particularly heavy defeat two years ago when placing 11th, his lowest ever position in any race since the 2001 Oslo Grand Prix.
Clearly not at full fitness, the 31-year-old Ethiopian was a shadow of the athlete who had bagged a record six World Cross Country long course titles.
This year he was once again looking his old self, lean and muscular, displaying the stature which saw him precede Mo Farah as the last man to gather the "double-double" of Olympic and World Championships 5000m and 10,000m titles.
However with the Paris Marathon in April on his mind – and not the expected clash in London against Farah, who he scalped in a high profile head-to-head at last September’s Bupa Great North Run, he was nowhere near as speedy as on that occasion.
With a training regime that requires a high weekly mileage in preparation for his eagerly awaited marathon debut, Bekele knew before the four kilometre race he was unlikely to match the speed of Kiprop, who also won the 2008 Olympic 1500m crown before surrendering it at the London Games.
That prediction proved correct but it was Heath who emerged the surprise victor, his legs devouring the wet and muddy surface to cause a major upset at the IAAF Permit event.
"I knew before I came I was unlikely to have enough speed in my legs," said Bekele. "I just haven't had the time to do any training for a short distance. I've been running almost 150 miles a week in my marathon preparations.
"I found it a hard race and tried my hardest. I'm happy with my performance and will go home a much happier man than the last time. I'm in good shape for Paris. Now it's time to concentrate fully on the marathon."
A fantastic display by Great Britain's women in the last race of the day over six kilometres saw them elevate the GB&NI team from overall third to victory in the International Team Challenge, ahead of the rest of Europe and the USA.
Team captain Gemma Steel roared to a nine second success in 20:35, denying Team Europe (and Ireland's) Fionnuala Britton, a third consecutive win, while Emelia Gorecka on her senior cross country debut, was a brilliant third in 20:51.
They all thwarted the efforts of France's Sophie Duarte who bettered Steel for the European Championships title last month, with the tiny figure of Charlotte Purdue (20:59) placing fifth, also contributing to a host nation victory.
"The women always pull it out of the bag," quipped Steel who in the last two years has emerged into a world class performer both over the country and even more so on the roads.
Chris Derrick who captained Team USA to unexpected team silver medals at last year's World Cross Country Championships dominated the 8km competition to win in a time of 24:11.
Behind him there was a very impressive display from Great Britain's Andy Vernon who was 10sec in arrears and held off Belgium's Bashir Abdi by six seconds.
Yemaneberhan Crippa suffered two unlucky moments in the junior 6km race where he was eventually outsprinted by Team Europe colleague Alexis Miellet. The Ethiopian born teenager, now representing Italy, had a 20m lead from his rival - but fell shortly before the final lap.
Crippa picked himself up quickly and until the final 400m appeared to have the race tied up. But at that point his French rival unleashed a terrific sprint and passed the leader - who unfortunately crashed into an advertising board - to win by seven seconds in 19:07. The USA's Michael Maton was third in 19:16.
There was a clean sweep for Great Britain in the junior women's 4km led by sisters Bobby and Alex Clay, with 2013 Bupa Junior Great North Run champion Lydia Turner third.
Bobby 16, fourth in last year's World Youth Championships 1500m and leader for almost the entire contest, triumphed by four seconds in 13:59 with Turner clocking 14:06.
2014 Full Results
Bupa Great Edinburgh XCountry 2014 Junior Women 4K Results (PDF)
Bupa Great Edinburgh XCountry 2014 Junior Men 6K Results (PDF)
Bupa Great Edinburgh XCountry 2014 Women 6K Results (PDF)
Bupa Great Edinburgh XCountry 2014 Men 4K Results (PDF)
Bupa Great Edinburgh XCountry 2014 Men 8K Results (PDF)