A dominant victory for the Kenyan in China, as Ethiopia’s Yasin Haji claims the junior men’s title in a sprint finish

If the world cross country championships is still the toughest footrace in the world – an event that pitches milers against marathon runners – then the latest blue ribbon senior men’s race saw a victory for endurance and stamina over track pedigree and speed as Geoffrey Kipsang Kamworor of Kenya took gold with a commanding performance in Guiyang.

Kamworor is the reigning world half-marathon champion and has five marathons under his belt with a best of 2:06:12. But he had too much strength in the closing stages for his rivals as he powered away from fellow Kenyan Bedan Karoki Muchiri to win by eight seconds.

Still only 22, Kamworor won the junior men’s title at the World Cross in 2011 and in China on Saturday he became only the third man after Ethiopians Kenenisa Bekele and Gebre Gebremariam to complete the junior and senior double at this event.

Behind, Mukhtar Edris and Hagos Gebrhiwet finished fourth and fifth as Ethiopia had four in the top 10 to give them a narrow victory in the team contest over Kenya.

“It is a very tough race and the course is very difficult but I’ve done well,” said Kamworor. “We are working as a team and we did it. I also hope to go to Beijing in August.”

Muchiri was fifth in the 2012 Olympic 10,000m final won by Mo Farah and the Japanese-based athlete won the Kenyan cross country title recently ahead of Kamworor, but the 24-year-old could not live with Kamworor during the final furlong of a course that was twisty, slightly undulating and relatively firm underfoot at the mild altitude venue in cool and slightly damp conditions.

From the opening stages the Kenyans took control with Gebrhiwet, who won the world junior title two years ago, looking threatening as he nestled into the lead group. But by halfway Muchiri and Kamworor were stretching their Ethiopian rivals to the hilt as Gebrhiwet became detached and only Edris and Tamirat Tola were able to put up a challenge for Ethiopia as the Kenyan duo pushed the pace relentlessly.

As the runners reached the 10km point of the 12km race, though, only Kamworor, Muchiri and Edris remained, with the latter gamely trying to keep in touch but inevitably falling away as the race entered the final kilometre.

In the closing stages it was a shoot-out between the two Kenyans and Kamworor’s decisive move came when he stole a few metres as the pair went over a small, man-made double hill with 200 metres to go before striding away to take gold with ease.

European champion Polat Kemboi Arikan of Turkey was top European runner in 22nd with American Chris Derrick, winner at the Great Edinburgh Cross Country in January and the big hope of the Western world, in 24th.

With Germany, Russia, Belgium, Norway and Ireland among a number of European nations who failed to field any athletes at the championships, it was good to see a scoring GB team in the senior men’s race, although they not surprisingly struggled and finished 15th and second European nation behind Spain. Charlie Hulson, the English National champion, led the team home in 55th with Dewi Griffiths 70th, Jonny Hay 84th and Andrew Butchart 86th.

A sign of the times is that only 15% of the senior men’s field consisted of European runners compared to 85% at the first IAAF World Cross in 1973.

Top and notable senior men’s results

1 Geoffrey Kamworor KEN 34:52
2 Bedan Karoki Muchiri KEN 35:00
3 Muktar Edris ETH 35:06
4 Hagos Gebrhiwet ETH 35:15
5 Leonard Barsoton KEN 35:24
6 Tamirat Tola ETH 35:33
7 Atsedu Tsegay ETH 35:47
8 Moses Kibet UGA 35:53
9 Ismael Juma TAN 35:55
10 Aweke Ayalew BRN 35:56
22 Polat Arikan TUR 36:40
24 Chris Derrick USA 36:45
28 Brett Robinson AUS 37:11
55 Charlie Hulson GBR 38:26
70 Dewi Griffiths GBR 39:02
84 Jonny Hay GBR 40:05
86 Andrew Butchart GBR 40:11

Team

1 Ethiopia 20
2 Kenya 20
3 Bahrain 54
4 Eritrea 91
5 Uganda 92
15 GB & NI 295

Junior men: Yasin Haji sprints to success

There was similar African domination in the junior men’s race as Yasin Haji won the title with a blistering sprint finish to earn gold for Ethiopia as Kenyans finished second, third and fourth.

Haji won 5000m silver in the IAAF World Junior Championships last year and the 19-year-old used his speed to blast past long-time leader Geoffrey Korir with 100 metres to go.

Haji looked in control despite being outnumbered by Kenyan trio Korir, Alfred Ngeno and Dominic Kiptarus, plus Joshua Cheptegei of Uganda. Indeed, Haji gave a thumbs up signal to team-mates at the side of the course with 2km to go.

Soon after, Korir, Ngeno and Haji broke away as the race became a three-way battle on the final lap, but Ngeno’s challenge soon faded, while Kenyan champion Kiptarus also crumbled in the closing stages, to leave Korir and Haji alone in a head-to-head that the Ethiopian ultimately had no trouble mastering as he beat his taller rival by five seconds.

A further seven seconds behind, Ngeno took bronze and team-mate Kiptarus was fourth as Kenya took team gold from Ethiopia and Eritrea.

The leading European was Euro Cross junior champion Yemaneberhan Crippa as the Italian came 20th.

Top Briton was Alex George in 39th as his GB team-mates Joe Steward finished 53rd, Elliot Bowker 72nd, Jonathan Glen 79th, Christopher Olley 102nd and Jac Hopkins did not finish.

“I’m really happy with my race. I came here off an indoor season not doing much cross country-specific work in preparation, so a cracking effort,” said George.

“It was a nice course. It was really twisty at the end but I love it as it’s similar to one of the courses I run on in the USA.

“I’m really proud to represent my country and to be the first Brit home. I’m honoured to be here and to be a part of such an amazing team.”

Great Britain finished 13th as Italy were the top European team in eighth.

Hopkins later shared the reason for his DNF on Twitter, explaining how he had collapsed with around 800m to go and drifted in and out of consciousness for two hours, ending up in hospital. “I’m devastated not to finish the race,” he tweeted.

Certainly, gone are the days when British juniors were able to mix it with the might of Africa in the junior men’s race. The top Brits in both junior men’s and women’s races were more than two minutes behind the Ethiopian winners and it is incredible to think that Mick Morton won gold for GB in this race in 1978 and Jonathan Richards took bronze behind two Ethiopians in 1983.

Although Britain isn’t the only Western nation to find itself outclassed. The last non-African winner of the junior men’s race was Pere Casacuberta of Spain in 1984 and the most recent non-African medallist was Dathan Ritzenhein when the American took bronze in 2001.

Top and notable junior men’s results

1 Yasin Haji ETH 23:42
2 Geoffrey Korir KEN 23:47
3 Alfred Ngeno KEN 23:54
4 Dominic Kiptarus KEN 24:00
5 Evans Chematot BRN 24:03
6 Abraham Habte ERI 24:04
7 Yihunilign Adane ETH 24:05
8 Abe Gashahun ETH 24:08
9 Fred Musobo UGA 24:10
10 Rodgers Chumo KEN 24:11
20 Yemaneberhan Crippa ITA 24:52
25 Justyn Knight CAN 25:22
27 John Dressel USA 25:25
39 Alex George GBR 25:54
53 Joe Steward GBR 26:21
72 Elliot Bowker GBR 26:55
79 Jonathan Glen GBR 27:10
102 Christopher Olley GBR 28:00
DNF Jac Hopkins GBR

Team

1 Kenya 19
2 Ethiopia 33
3 Eritrea 52
4 Bahrain 70
5 Uganda 76
13 GB & NI 243

» See the April 2 edition of Athletics Weekly magazine for further reports, pictures and results from Guiyang

» A senior and junior women’s World Cross report can be found here