Africans dominate as Irish find the going tough in Riga

Robyn McKee was successful in the Bangor 10K
Robyn McKee was successful in the Bangor 10K

IT was a tough learning day for Ireland’s four representatives competing at Sunday’s inaugural World Road Running Championships in Riga, Latvia.

While the day was dominated by athletes from east African nations Kenya and Ethiopia, the small Irish contingent will gain some experience from competing against the cream of the world’s road runners. 

Riocht AC’s Shona Heaslip (71:07) finished 24th in the women’s half marathon, won by Olympic marathon champion Peres Jepchirchir (67:25) after a dour struggle on the long finishing straight with compatriot Margaret Kipkemboi (57:26).

Catherine Amanang’ole (67:34), in third, made it a clean sweep of the individual medals for Kenya who also claimed team gold from Ethiopia and Britain.

Armagh AC’s Fionnuala Ross (74:40) finished a credible 41st in a field of over 70 starters. 

Two-time Olympian Kevin Seaward was a withdrawal from the men’s race leaving Hiko Tonosa Haso and Peter Lynch as the Irish standard-bearers.

Tonosa (64:14) had a solid race to place 60th, with Kenya making a second clean sweep of the individual medals through Sabastian Sawe (59:10), Daniel Ebenyo (59:14) and Samwel Mailu (59:19).

Kilkenny City Harrier Peter Lynch went through the 15-kilometre mark but withdrew some time later. 

Earlier, the day started as it was to continue, with reigning World Cross Country champion Beatrice Chebet (14:35) and Lilian Rengeruk (14:39) finishing one-two for Kenya in the 5000m.

Ethiopia’s Ejgayehu Taye (14:40) claimed the final spot on the podium. First European finisher was Italy’s Nadia Battocletti (14:45) in fifth, while Britain’s Verity Ockenden (15:18), in eighth, also claimed a top-10 spot. 

It was gold and silver for Ethiopia in the men’s 5000m with Hagos Gebrhiwet (12:59) leading home compatriot Yamif Kejelcha (13:02) after covering the last mile in four minutes.

Kenya’s Nicholas Kipkorir (13:16) maintained the east African dominance by taking third. Britain’s Scott Beattie (13:32) was ninth. 

The major upset of the day came in the women’s mile when Ethiopia’s Diribe Welteji (4:21.00) got the better of World and Olympic champion Faith Kipyegon (4:24.13) of Kenya to seize the gold medal and set a new world record.

Kipyegon slipped back to third at the finish when another Ethiopian Freweyni Hailu (4:23.06) slipped through in the final few strides to take second. 

The runners from the Rift Valley were found temporarily vulnerable in the men’s mile with 20-year-old American Hobbs Kessler (3:56.13) taking the victory in a bunch finish.

The time was a new world record, while Britain’s former footballer turned runner Callum Elson (3:56.41) was a surprise silver medallist with another US athlete and former record-holder Sam Prakel (3:56.43) in third.   

Meanwhile at home, Andrew Milligan and Robyn McKee were crowned Ulster & NI champions after impressive victories in the Bangor 10K on Saturday.

Entry for the race was capped at 1000 with Milligan in the leading group throughout the race before the North Belfast Harrier put his track speed to good effect and edge ahead for a narrow victory in 30:27. 

City of Derry’s Conor Bradley pipped St Malachy’s Colin McClean for the runner-up spot with both men sharing a 30:28 timing.

Newcastle followed up their win in the road relays seven days earlier by putting their four scorers in the top 11 to claim the championship team gold medals.

It was double joy for Robyn McKee in the women’s race taking the individual title in 36:16 and leading her Annadale Striders squad to a comfortable team win.

Club-mate Dearbhla Cox was second woman across the finish line in 36:40 while Lagan Valley’s Sarah McNutt claimed the individual bronze in 38:01.