Date: Monday, 23 October 2023
Ethiopia's Likina Amebaw and Burundi's Celestin Ndikumana became the first Gold event winners of this season’s World Athletics Cross Country Tour, claiming victories at the Cross Internacional Zornotza on Sunday (22).
While Amebaw outsprinted her compatriot Lemlem Nibret during the closing stages of the women’s race, Ndikumana was a commanding men’s race winner on a pleasant day in Amorebieta, Spain.
Right from the start of the 8700m women’s event it was Mawia, the 2022/2023 Cross Country Tour winner, who took control, closely followed by the Ethiopian duo of Nibret and Amebaw. Alessia Zarbo of France ran alone in fourth, well ahead of the large chasing group.
The leading trio covered the opening 2000m lap in 6:49 and the second circuit in 6:55, with Nibret briefly moving to the front by the third kilometre.
At halfway, the leaders had built a margin of 21 seconds on Zarbo, who in turn was well clear of the top Spaniards. Over the penultimate loop, Mawia and Nibret took turns at the helm, while the Spain-based Amebaw remained tucked behind that tandem. Nibret then clocked the fastest split of the race to that point, a 3:19 sixth kilometre, and shortly after the bell she picked up the pace dramatically to leave Mawia well behind, while Amebaw managed to join her with relative ease.
Nibret pushed hard over the final loop but Amebaw did not relinquish and the Ethiopian pair engaged in a thriling sprint finish, much to the delight of the crowd. Taking advantage of a hilly section some 200m from home, Amebaw broke away from her younger compatriot – who finished fifth in the U20 race at the World Cross Country Championships in Bathurst – to win in 29:36 to Nibret's 29:38.
Mawia completed the podium another 25 seconds adrift but well clear of Zarbo, who finished fourth just over a minute behind the Kenyan.
“I'm over the moon,” said Amebaw. “I have been training so hard for the last three months thinking of this cross country season, where I expect to achieve great things. I'll next run in Atapuerca next Sunday,” added the 25-year-old, who has been based in Spain since 2019.
The men’s event witnessed a rocket start by Eritrea's Filmon Kibrom who covered the opening kilometre in 2:47. That pace could only be covered by his compatriot Merhawi Mebrahtu, the world U20 5000m silver medallist, plus Uganda's world 3000m steeplechase finalist Leonard Chemutai and the pre-race favourite Ndikumana. The quartet clocked 5:45 for the first lap but the pace slowed over the second circuit (6:03).
Celestin Ndikumana wins the Cross Internacional Zornotza (© Asociacion ADOC)
The key movement came halfway into the penultimate lap, some 16:30 into the race, Ndikumana kicked and opened up a sizeable advantage in a matter of few metres. Mebrahtu, Chemutai and Kibrom ran in crocodile file behind Ndikumana, whose 2:55 sixth kilometre killed the race.
At the bell, the leader had a comfortable seven-second margin on Mebrahtu, himself six seconds ahead of Chemutai.
The 21-year-old Ndikumana extended his lead over the final circuit to maintain the Burundian dominance at this event after Rodrigue Kwizera's win last year. Ndikumana crossed the finish line in 25:34, 13 seconds ahead of Mebrahtu, while Chemutai was never threatened by Kibrom and completed the podium by finishing 10 seconds behind the Eritrean. The top Spaniard was Sergio Paniagua in fifth, 46 seconds behind the victor.
"I already competed here last year and came fifth,” said Ndikumana, “so winning today is marvellous, especially since this race has been won by a lot of great champions in the past. I'm so proud to join them, I can't believe it.”
Emeterio Valiente for World Athletics
1 Likina Amebaw (ETH) 29:36
2 Lemlem Nibret (ETH) 29:38
3 Lucy Mawia (KEN) 30:03
4 Alessia Zarbo (FRA) 31:07
5 Cristina Ruiz (ESP) 31:21
6 Irene Pelayo (ESP) 31:24
7 Rosalia Tarraga (ESP) 31:27
8 Paula Gonzalez (ESP) 31:35
9 Laura Domene (ESP) 31:36
10 Idaira Prieto (ESP) 31:45
1 Celestin Ndikumana (BDI) 25:34
2 Merhawi Mebrahtu (ERI) 25:47
3 Leonard Chemutai (UGA) 25:57
4 Filmon Kibrom (ERI) 26:03
5 Sergio Paniagua (ESP) 26:20
6 Nassim Hassaous (ESP) 26:32
7 Fernando Carro (ESP) 26:44
8 David Bascunana (ESP) 26:48
9 Eduardo Menacho (ESP) 26:54
10 Ghirmay Ghebreslassie (ERI) 27:08