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Ayalew, Teferi rule Seville

Ayalew, Teferi rule Seville

Bahrain’s Aweke Ayalew and Ethiopia’s Senberi Teferi captured outstanding victories at the 35th Cross Internacional de Itálica in Santiponce, near the Spanish city of Seville, the fifth leg of this season’s IAAF Cross Country Permit series on Sunday (15).

Held on a pleasant and dry afternoon with the temperature about 12C, the men’s 10.8km didn’t start particularly fast as a large pack covered the opening two kilometers in 6:18.

The following circuit took 6:16 with Eritrea’s Teklemariam Medhin and Kenya’s Jairus Birech making most of the pace-setting while the nine-unit leading group included the main favourites in the guise of Ayalew, Ethiopia’s Tafese Soboka and Leonard Komon of Kenya. To the delight of the home crowd, the lead group also included three Spaniards: European 5000m champion Ilias Fifa, Toni Abadía and Javier Guerra.

Komon, the world 10km and 15km record-holder, and Soboka did most of the front-running on the third lap while Ayalew ran comfortably in the middle of the pack, but European 10,000m bronze medallist Abadía gradually began to lose ground.

The lead group’s pace became increasingly quicker and they covered the third lap in 6:13, but somewhat surprisingly the in-form Birech began to struggle shortly afterwards and lost any chance of making the podium. Guerra and Fifa also later dropped from the lead pack, leaving the race in the hands of a quintet comprising Ayalew and his compatriot Hassan El Abbassi, Soboka, Komon and Medhin.

The penultimate circuit was covered in 6:12 with Medhin and Komon – both previous winners here – at the forefront, but shortly afterwards Ayalew stepped up the pace. His strong move soon paid dividends as Komon and El Abbassi struggled to stay with him at the start of the final lap.

The race then became a three-man battle between Ayalew, Soboka and Medhin but Ayalew produced a decisive change of speed with about 1.3km left and opened a significant margin on Soboka and Medhin in a matter of seconds.

Despite losing some time by taking a wrong turn on the final bend, Ayalew covered the closing lap in 5:59 to secure a commanding victory in 31:36. For the second year in a row, 2015 winner Medhin had to settle for the runner-up spot, six seconds behind Ayalew, after breaking away from Soboka with about 700 metres remaining. Soboka completed a classy podium another two seconds adrift.

Fifa won the domestic battle, finishing sixth in 31:56. A fading Birech had to settle for 12th place, more than a minute behind the winner.

“It was my first time here, I felt great throughout and could break away over the last lap,” said a joyful Ayalew, who will turn 24 next month. “I liked the course a lot. I’m in full preparation for the World Cross Country Championships in Kampala. My next race will be next Sunday in Elgoibar where I’ll defend my title.”

Medhin was content with his opening race of the cross-country season. “Before the race I was a bit doubtful as it was my opener and you never know what kind of form you’re going to show,” said the tall Eritrean. “Anyway, I’m leaving Seville happy as my performance was quite good, despite a minor knee niggle. My primary goal for this season is Kampala; I’ll travel to Eritrea within 10 days and will contest the national championships in mid-February.”