Merga and Oljira are Repeat Winners at Atapuerca, Opening IAAF Cross Country Permit Meeting
(IAAF) — Ethiopia’s Imane Merga won the Cross Internacional de Atapuerca, the opening race of this winter’s IAAF Cross Country Permit series, for a fifth consecutive year on Sunday (15).
Merga started the men’s 9km race as the favourite after capturing four successive wins since 2011, the same year he also won the world cross country title at the other end of Spain in Punta Umbría.
However, after last season’s narrow finish with his fellow Ethiopian Muktar Edris, Merga’s fifth win was by no means a certainty.
After two kilometres, the front group consisted of Uganda’s Moses Kibet and Timothy Toroitich, the Ethiopian pair of Merga and Edris, Spain’s Alemayehu Bezabeh and Ayad Lamdassem, Bahrain’s Aweke Ayalew, Eritrea’s Goitom Kifle and Kenya’s Thomas Longosiwa.
Pushing the pace in particular were Kibet, Kifle and Ayalew, the latter a late addition to the field and who placed 10th at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships earlier this year, while Merga and Edris ran comfortably in the middle of the pack.
Successive 1.95km laps of 5:43 and 5:32 eliminated the two Spaniards from contention.
Just before the final big lap, Ayalew accelerated and was only followed by Merga and Toroitich.
Ayalew then lost ground on his two rivals some 600 metres from the line and the Toroitich-Merga clash didn’t last long either. The Ethiopian attacked earlier than usual, with 300 metres to go, to easily pull away and secure his fifth straight victory in Atapuerca, as he himself indicated while waving his right hand – one win for every finger – just before crossing the finish line in 25:02.
Toroitich was second in 25:06 and Ayalew another four seconds further back.
“I’m very pleased for my fifth success here but also for the nice weather we’ve enjoyed this weekend,” said Merga. “Last year it was much tougher because of the rain, wind and cold. I attacked at the right moment, just when I knew Toroitich wouldn’t be able to catch me.”
Edris, the world cross-country bronze medallist, admitted he wasn’t currently in the shape of last year when he pushed Merga all the way to the line.
Oljira maintains Ethiopian dominance
File: Belaynesh Oljira wins the Carrera de la Mujer (Organisers)
The women’s 8km event was weakened by the late withdrawals of Ethiopia’s world cross-country silvermedallist Senbere Teferi and Kenya’s Mercy Cherono but the race still started quickly thanks to the initiative of the Ethiopian duo of 2014 Atapuerca winner Belaynesh Oljira and Alemitu Heroye whose early pace could only be followed by Spain’s Trihas Gebre.
This trio were ahead after the first kilometre with the Polish duo of Dominika Napieraj and Iowa Lewandowska travelling 50 metres behind.
Headed by Heroye most of the time, the leading trio clocked successive laps of 6:30, 6:26 and 6:16; the latter proved to be too much for Gebre who began to fade after halfway.
Oljira decided to make her move with 400 metres remaining and her young compatriot Heroye had no answer to her surge, four seconds separating them at the tape as the pair clocked 24:52 and 24:56 respectively.
Gebre had no difficulty staying in third and coming home as the top Spaniard in 25:34, running a solitary race for the final three kilometres as the best of the rest came home more than a minute behind her.
“I felt more comfortable today than last year as weather conditions were much better today,” said Oljira, reflecting the comments of Merga about the better weather conditions.
Belaynesh Oljira’s Background
Belaynesh Oljira Jemama (born 26 June 1990) is an Oromo long-distance runner who competes mainly in 10K and half marathon races. She represented her country at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in 2011.
Born in Welega in Oromia, she demonstrated her potential as an endurance runner with a third-place finish at the Great Ethiopian Run. She began competing on the European circuit the following year and won the Le Mans Cross Country race before placing second at the European Clubs Cross Country Cup. She ran at IAAF Diamond League meetings that summer and set a 3000 metres track best of 8:40.73 minutes at the Herculis meet and a personal best time of 14:58.16 minutes for the 5000 metres at the Meeting Areva. Belaynesh found success on the roads that year, having runner-up finishes at the 10 km du Conseil Général and Marseille-Cassis Classic, a third place in the Zhuhai Half Marathon, and a win at the Nice Half Marathon (where she set a best of 1:10:22 hours). She ended the year with a third place at the Sao Silvestre de Luanda in Angola.
Representing Ethiopia’s Commercial Bank team, she came third at the Jan Meda Cross Country in February 2011 and earned herself a spot for the Ethiopian world team. At the 2011 IAAF World Cross Country Championships, she came tenth in the women’s senior race and took a share in the team silver medal alongside Meselech Melkamu, Wude Ayalew and Genzebe Dibaba. Turning to the track, she won the 10,000 metres title at the Ethiopian Athletics Championships. She then set a personal best of 31:17.80 minutes for that event at the Golden Spike Ostrava meet and placed third at the World 10K Bangalore behind Dire Tune and Merima Mohammed. She was selected for the Ethiopian team at the 2011 World Championships in Athletics, but ultimately did not compete.
In November she was runner-up to Linet Masai at the Cross de Atapuerca race, then ran a new best of 1:07:27 hours at the Delhi Half Marathon, finishing in fourth place. Her first race of 2012 saw her win the Houston Half Marathon with a course record time of 1:08:26 hours (also a Texas state record). She greatly improved her 10,000 metres track best at the Prefontaine Classic in June, running a time of 30:26.70 minutes to take third place. This gained her a place on the Ethiopian team for the 2012 London Olympics and she managed to finish fifth in the 10,000 metres final.
Imane Merga’s Background
Imane Merga Jida (born 15 October 1988) is an Oromo long-distance runner who specializes in the 5000 and 10,000 metres. He won his first world title at the 2011 IAAF World Cross Country Championships. At the 2011 World Championships in Athletics he won the 10,000 m bronze medal, but he was disqualified in the 5000 m, losing a second bronze.
Imane won the first two 5000 m titles in the annual IAAF Diamond League and was the gold medalist at the 2009 IAAF World Athletics Final. He has also won the Giro Media Blenio and BOClassic road races. His personal best times are 7:51.24 minutes in the 3000 metres, achieved in May 2009 at the Icahn Stadium; 12:53.58 minutes in the 5000 metres, achieved in August 2010 in Stockholm; and 26:48.35 minutes in the 10,000 metres, achieved in June 2011 in Oregon. He began working with Italian technical coach Renato Canova at the start of 2010.
He was born in Tulu Bolo, Oromia. His first appearances on the world stage came in cross country running – he finished seventh in the men’s junior race at the 2007 IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Mombasa and he went on to win at the Oeiras International Cross Country later that year.
In 2008, he ran at the São Silvestre da Amadora road race, winning the 10 km competition in 29:27. Merga won the Antrim International Cross Country in early 2009 and went on to finish second behind Gebregziabher Gebremariam at the Ethiopian 10,000 m championships in July. He finished fourth in the 10,000 metres at the 2009 World Championships and won the 5000 metres at the 2009 World Athletics Final. He closed the year on the cross country circuit, winning at the Cross de l’Acier for a third consecutive time.
He began his 2010 season with a win at the 10 km Giro Media Blenio race in Dongio, beating defending champion Moses Mosop in the process. Having won the 5000 m at the Bislett Games and the Golden Gala, he went on to become the inaugural 2010 IAAF Diamond League champion in the event. He represented Africa in the event at the 2010 IAAF Continental Cup, but came in fifth. He attempted a fourth straight win at the Cross de l’Acier, but was beaten to the line by reigning cross country champion Joseph Ebuya. He ended 2010 with a win at the BOclassic, defeating Mo Farah in a sprint finish.
At the Jan Meda Cross Country in February 2011 he came second, some distance behind race winner Hunegnaw Mesfin who took the national title. However, he beat his countryman and all other contenders at the 2011 IAAF World Cross Country Championships, closing the race with a quick sprint finish. His world title followed a 15-month stretch in which he had not won a cross country race. He ended his cross country season with another win on grass, beating Caleb Ndiku and world runner-up Paul Tanui at the Trofeo Alasport in Alà dei Sardi. Turning to the European road circuit, he retained his Giro Media Blenio title with a quick run to the line. In the 2011 Diamond League he won the 5000 m at the Golden Galaand then, in the absence of the event leader Mo Farah, he won at the Memorial van Damme final to be elected the Diamond race winner for a second time running.
At the 2011 World Championships in Athletics he won the bronze medal over 10,000 m while his team mate Ibrahim Jeilan won the title. Imane won his second bronze of the competition in the Men’s 5000 metres, but he was later disqualified for having run inside the curb of the running track for some 10 to 15 metres. Fellow Ethiopian Dejen Gebremeskel was elevated to the bronze medal as a result.
He continued his cross country winning streak at the Cross de Atapuerca in November, but was then defeated by 2010 World Champion Ebuya at the Cross de l’Acier. He tried for a second win at the BOClassic, but was third behind Edwin Soi, and was again beaten the Kenyan at the Campaccio race.
Imane failed in his attempt to make the Ethiopian team for the 2012 Summer Olympics, and only made the top three once on the 2012 Diamond League circuit (third in the 5000 m at the Bislett Games). He fared better away from the track with a time of 59:56 minutes for his half marathon debut at the Great North Run, where he placed third. He won the Cross de Atapuerca in November and in December he won the won Ethiopian Clubs Cross Country Championships and the end-of-year BOClassic race.
He came close to defending his world title at the 2013 IAAF World Cross Country Championships but was eventually beaten in the final stages by Japhet Korir, finishing as runner-up by a margin of four seconds. He was runner-up again at the Giro Media Blenio, beaten by his junior compatriot Muktar Edris. The 10,000 m was his focus on the track that year and he was runner-up at the Prefontaine Classic. He ran a season’s best of 26:57.33 minutes at the Folksam Grand Prix, but at the 2013 World Championships in Athletics he was only twelfth in the World 10,000 metres final. After the track season he came fifth at the Portugal Half Marathon and third at the Giro al Sas.
She made a step up in distance to the marathon at the start of 2013 and came fifth at the Dubai Marathon with her debut run of 2:25:01 hours. In October 2014 she won the 10K Great South Run in Portsmouth UK