Alemayehu Bezabeh wins SPAR European Cross Country Champs, release, note by Larry Eder


Alemayehu Bezabeh won the SPAR European Mens XC title today, photo by

Athletes from 30 countries competed in the SPAR European Cross Country Champs on December 13, 2009. Alemayehu Bezabeh duked it out for seven kilometers with Mo Farah of Great Britian, before Bezabeh broke loose.

Spain's Alemayehu Bezabeh, who was seventh in last year's SPAR European Cross Country Championships, advertised he was in great form with several outstanding outings in November and he fulfilled his promise by become the first man from his country to win a senior title.

For much of the race, he had to fight with Great Britain's Mo Farah but the Spaniard pulled away from the 2006 champion and last year's runner up, around two kilometres from the end of the 9997m race.

He crossed the line in 30:45, the time a testament to the increasingly chilly and muddy conditions as the afternoon progressed, and finished 17 seconds in front of the exhausted Farah.

The pair provided a contrast in images at the end of the race.

The winner, deservedly thrilled from being victorious and notching up his first major international championship win, had enough time and energy to raise his arm skywards in the last metres of the race.

However, Farah, the most committed of competitors who has never shirked a challenge, ran himself into the ground and left the course on a stretcher.

Fortunately, despite missing the medal ceremony, he was soon able to leave the on-site medical centre and was quickly back on his feet after being administered aid and some fluid replacement.

The race got under way with a large pack running cautiously for the first 2500m, going through the check point at 2188m in 6:57. However, Farah decided soon afterwards to make a move and the only man who dared to follow was Bezabeh.

The pair were shadowed initially by the eight-time gold medallist and defending champion Serhiy Lebid, but the Ukrainian was soon to spend the rest of the race running on his own in the bronze medal position.

Farah push hard at first, up until the halfway point, but after that it was Bezabeh's turn to dictate proceedings and leave his British rival hanging onto his coat tails until he managed to finally ease away.

"I knew from last year how strong Farah is and that he was going to be the man who was most likely to be my biggest challenger. However, I was confident I will win, and that was very important. I raced the world champion very close in a race in November (when he came home just a second behind Ethiopia's reigning world Cross Country champion Gebre Gebremariam at the Cross De Atapuerca, near Burgos) so I knew my shape was very good then and I have trained very well in the last month," said Bezabeh.

Behind the leading pair, Lebid consolidated his reputation as an icon of European Cross Country running and his bronze medal in such an exciting and high class race was no disappointment to any of the estimated 6000 crowd that lined Dublin's Santry Demense course.

He picked up his 11th individual medal, he has only not made the senior men's podium twice - in 1999 and 2006 - in the last 13 editions of the championships, and remains the only person to have competed in all 16 editions of the event.

"I had a slight groin strain two weeks ago and stopped training for three days. But I don't want to make excuses. I would have run better without this problem but would I have been able to beat the Spaniard? Who knows, probably not. He was running very well," said Lebid, after finishing in 31:17.

"One thing is certain. Barring accidents, I will be in Portugal (the Algarve resort of Albufeira) next year to keep my streak going of running in every SPAR European Cross Country Championships and to also to try regain my title," added the 34-year-old Ukrainian.

Behind the medallists, Spain's Sergio Sanchez and Ayad Landassam - joined initially by Portugal's Jose Rocha, who was to finish sixth - ran together in fourth and fifth place, helping each other until the final 500m when it was every man for himself and Sanchez came out on top.

With three men in the top five, Spain looked to be comfortably on their way to defending the title they had won for the past two years but had to wait until Francisco Lopez came home in 24th place before their hat-trick was confirmed, with them eventually scoring 34 points.

Great Britain, last year's bronze medallists, had enough strength in depth after Farah to get the silver medals with 54 points.

Italy, led home by 2006 Under 23 bronze medallist Daniele Menucci in ninth and their scoring quartet completed by the evergreen Gabriele De Nard - who was running in his 13th SPAR European Cross Country Championships, a record only beaten by Lebid - in 20th, got their first senior men's medal since 2004 with 62 points.

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