Michael Mulhare leads Ireland’s men to sixth spot as Spain’s Alemayehu Bezabeh takes title
Athletes of East African origin dominate European Cross Country Championships
Spain’s Alemayehu Bezabeh shows off his gold medal after his win in the men’s senior race.
There’s nothing unusual about Kenyans and Ethiopians dominating cross country races. You just don’t expect to see it at the European Championships.
Indeed three runners of East African origin ended up winning three of the six individual titles on offer here in Belgrade - including senior men’s winner Alemayehu Bezabeh, formerly of Ethiopia, now running for Spain.
That alone didn’t explain Bezabeh’s somewhat subdued victory: more the fact he’s just come back from two-year doping ban, handed down not long after he first won this title in 2009.
Anyway, Bezabeh was followed home by Polat Kemboi Arikan, the former Kenyan now representing Turkey. The junior men’s race was also dominated by a duel between two former Kenyans, Ali Kaya and Isaac Kimeli, now representing Turkey and Belgium, while former Ethiopian Sifan Hassan, now running in Dutch colours, was such a convincing winner of the women’s under-23 race that it’s surely only a matter of time before she wins the women’s title outright.
It all made for an awkwardly disheartening sight for some of the opposition, not least the Irish senior men – who still ran well to finish sixth best team overall, with Michael Mulhare nailing a solid 15th, three places ahead of David McCarthy, while Paul Pollock perhaps paid a heavy price for his enthusiastic start by falling back to 26th.
“I think we really dug in, pulled through as best we could,” said Mulhare.
‘Disheartening to see’
“I was up to 13th, at one stage, and just about held it at that. But it is disheartening to see the Africans winning everything up front.
“These are the championships that as Europeans we want to target. And I think they do need to look into why so many Kenyans and Ethiopians are now running for places like Turkey and Belgium. Because I’m sure their own athletes wouldn’t be happy.”
It proved a hectic race anyway and Pollock’s hopes of a high finish came undone around halfway.
“I probably did go out a bit fast,” admitted Pollock. “I felt I could maintain the pace, but once they picked it up, I just couldn’t sustain it.”
It meant the best performance from an Irish men’s perspective was the fourth-place finish of the under-23 team, with Paul Robinson finishing ninth overall despite this being his first cross country race in three years.
The track specialist, just back from training in Australia, had actually run the Irish team into the bronze medal position around halfway, but they just couldn’t quite sustain that until the end – finishing with 120 points behind Great Britain (40), Ukraine (72), and France (78).
“We put ourselves in that medal position,” said Robinson, “but just couldn’t quiet hold on. But this is certainly a good base for the summer track season, and hopefully all of us guys can keep it going.”
With no Irish interest in the women’s under-23 race, the best of the junior positions went to Sean Tobin, also a solid ninth overall, although illness clearly upset Siofra Cleirigh-Buttner, as she faded to a disappointing 37th overall.
1, A Bezabeh (Esp) 29:11; 2, P Arikan (Tur) 29:32; 3, A Vernon ( GBr) 29:35 . Irish: 15, M Mulhare; 18, D MCCarthy; 26, P Pollock; 31, D Mulhare; 56, M Clohissey; -63, S Scullion. 6th team.
1, S Duarte (Fra) 26:34; 2, G Steel (GBr) 26:39; 3, D Félix (Por) 26:41; 4, F Britton (Irl) 26:45 . Other Irish: 31, S Treacy; 36, C Durkan; 44, S Mulligan; 49, A Larkin; 55, M MCCambridge. 6th team.
1 J Hannes (Bel) 24:02 ; 2 M Tsenov(Bul) 24:07; 3, N Cerovac (Srb) 24:08. Irish: 9, P Robinson; 32, J Travers; 38, K Dooney; 41, S Quinn; 60, J Byrne; 71, R McDermot. 4th team.
1, A Kaya (Tur) 17:49; 2, I KImeli (Bel) 17:51; 3, M Strelkov (Rus) 18:05. Irish: 9, S Tobin; 40, A Coscoran; 47, A Hanlon; 61, R Finnegan; 69, K Mulcaire; 95, C Doherty. 9th team.
1, E Gorecka (GBr) 13:06; 2, S Ennaoui (Pol) 13:16; 3, M Mismas (Slo) 13:27. Irish: 37, S Cleirigh-Buttner; 58, A O’Donoghue; 69, M Ryan; 78, I Odlum; 98, C McCarthy; 100, S Fitzpatrick. 13th team.