SPAIN’S BEZABEH EARNS SECOND GOLD MEDAL
Excitement –and surprise– came early on in the Men’s Senior race at the European Cross Country Championships in Belgrade, ultimately helping Spain’s Alemayehu Bezabeh go on to win his second crown in five years.
While leading, Turkey’s Polat Kemboi Arikan approached a set of logs lying on the ground less than 2.5 kilometers into the contest. Attempting to jump over the short barriers, Arikan clipped the log, falling hard to the ground.
The sudden spill gave Bezabeh and France’s Hassan Chahdi reason to surge, stringing out the field immediately. Soon Bezabeh, Chahdi, and Belgium’s Bashir Abdi found themselves far ahead of the main pack.
While Bezabeh continued to push –creating a ten meter gap of his own– Arikan managed to catch up to Chahdi and Abdi within the next mile, as they all battled for second. Judging by his reaction, the fall didn’t seem to effect Arikan’s mentality all that much.
At 5.5 kilometers, Bezabeh had built up an 11-second lead on Arikan, who was now taking it upon himself to reel in the Ethiopian-born Spaniard out in front.
By his body language –arms flailing, head moving side to side with each stride– it looked as if Arikan was giving every ounce of energy he had trying to reel in Bezabeh. But it was not working: at seven kilometers, the lead had grown to 16 seconds. By 8.5 kilometers it was 18 ticks of the clock.
Ultimately at the finish, the margin of victory was 21 seconds. Breaking the tape in 29:11, the 27-year-old Bezabeh earned his second European Cross Country senior title, adding another win to his 2009 victory. In 2011, Bezabeh was suspended for two years for doping, part of the Spanish doping investigation called “Operation Galgo.” He had only returned to competition in February, 2013.
Though he did not speak to European Athletics representatives, Bezabeh appeared very happy to finish first. With his win, Bezabeh joins Ukraine’s Sergey Lebid and Portugal’s Paulo Guerra as the only male athletes to win senior gold medals at multiple European Cross Country Championships. (Interestingly, this is the first edition in the event’s 20 year history that Lebid is not racing).
Despite the early fall, Arikan took second in 29:32. In a photo finish for third, Great Britain’s Andy Vernon edged Belgium’s Jeroen D’Hoedt, with both athletes timing 29:35.
Vernon’s bronze medal was significant in that the 27-year-old now has a medal from each of the three European Cross Country Championships levels. As a junior Vernon took silver in 2005, and in Under-23 competition he’s won bronze (2007) and silver (2008).
In the team competition, Spain scored 31 points, defeating Belgium (49) and Great Britain (60).