Ethiopian born ,Birhanu Balew became the second Bahraini runner in three years to take top men’s honours at the 42nd Northern Ireland International Cross Country, an IAAF Cross Country Permit meeting at Dundonald, Belfast, on Saturday (19). Ethiopian Meskerem Mamo claimed the victory in the women’s race.
Balew, the Asian 5000m champion, followed in the footsteps of compatriot Aweke Ayalew to take the victory on the new 10km course.
On a day where the skies were grey and the weather was cold, conditions proved ideal for the race at the Billy Neill Centre of Excellence, which has taken over from Greenmount’s College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise, who had hosted the event for almost a decade.
Balew continued his good form from 2018, a season which saw him collect victories at IAAF Diamond League events in Shanghai and Lausanne.
Little separated the top four throughout the race, with Olympic 10,000m silver medallist Paul Tanui of Kenya taking charge at the midway stage, with a solid group of 15 pushing hard at the front. But that quickly dwindled.
Tanui led a tightly knit pack, which included Balew, world U20 cross-county bronze medallist Richard Yator and Chala Beyo of Ethiopia.
They remained bunched for the remainder of the race, with just 11 seconds separating the top four at the finish. Balew won in 29:42 followed by Yator in second and Beyo a further two seconds adrift in third.
Balew’s victory halted a potential third win in a row for a Kenyan at the event. Indeed Kenyans had take the past two victories in both the women’s and mens events.
Samuel Stabler was the first British athlete home in a time of 30:33, fifth overall.
Ethiopians were to the fore in the women’s 8km race, with Mamo edging the tightest race in years, beating her compatriot Hawi Feysa on the line for victory.
Pauline Kamulu carried Kenyan hopes, but despite leading for most of the race, she had to be content with third. Kamulu, who was the fastest 10,000m runner in the world last season, was just three seconds behind the top two finishers.
Mamo moved from third to first spot over the closing part of the race.
Former winner Fionnuala McCormack was back in action at this event, having taken maternity leave.
The Kilcoole native won this event on two occasions, in 2012 and 2013 in Greenmount.
One of her last races was last January in the Antrim International Cross where she finished sixth. Once again, the double Olympian finished sixth in a time of 27:24.
Emily Hosker Thornhill was the top British athlete in 27:20, finishing fifth. Kate Avery, twice a runner-up, was the second British athlete home in a time of 27:29, finishing seventh overall.(IAAF)
Cóilín Duffy for the IAAF