Korir takes cross country title as African athletes dominate at Antrim

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African-born athletes dominated the 37th IAAF Antrim International Cross Country at Greenmount as Japhet Korir and Mimi Belete claimed the major honours in the world class fields.

The event, sponsored by Antrim Borough Council and Sport NI, also included the Northern Ireland and Ulster Championships with Paul Pollock and Eimear Mullan striking gold.

European bronze medallist Andy Vernon, third at Greenmount last time, was first to show but after the second of the five circuits three men had drawn clear with reigning world champion Japhet Korir, fellow Kenyan Emmanuel Bett and last year’s winner Thomas Akeyo from Uganda running side by side.

Two more Kenyans, Cornelius Kangogo and Titus Mbishei followed with Vernon and leading home runner Paul Pollock next ahead of Moroccan champion Aziz Lahbabi and Michael Mulhare.

The leading trio were setting a blistering pace and were already lapping athletes. Bett who has been in tremendous form looked the strongest but it was Korir and Akeyo who opened out on the last lap.

Akeyo gave everything to defend his title but it was world champion Korir who timed his finish perfectly to win by two seconds with Bett just one second further back. Kangogo was next half a minute later with Mbishei, Vernon, Mulhare, Lahbabi and Pollock close up.

Pollock claimed the Northern Ireland crown ahead of holder of Stephen Scullion, Gary Murray, Joe McAllister, Andrew Agnew and Eoghan Totten with City of Derry Spartans led by Declan Reed and JP Williamson taking the team prize from North Down and North Belfast. Wales and Scotland were top Celtic teams.

The ladies’ race was billed as a rematch between double European champion Fionnuala Britton chasing a Greenmount hat-trick and European silver medallist Gemma Steel and in the early stages the pair along with 2011 winner Charlotte Purdue headed the six strong leading group.

By half distance Mimi Belete and Maryan Jamal representing Bahrain and European sixth placer Almanesh Belete from Belgium had moved to the front and looked to have the race between them.

Former double world 1500 champion Jamal and fellow track star Mimi Belete then fought out the finish with Belete just crossing the line one second in front, an astonishing result as both had very little cross country experience.

Almenish Belete just held off Britain for third with Purdue and Steel completing the top half dozen. Ireland won the Celtic team from Scotland.

Eimear Mullan back to the country after concentrating on triathlon ran really well to claim the Northern Ireland crown from holder Gladys Ganiel-O’Neill with Danielle Fegan, Cathy McCourt, Lauren Quee and Rachel Gibson next.

Gladys, Cathy, Mary Margaret Meade and Amanda Perry gave North Belfast team gold ahead of Springwell, North Down and Lagan Valley.

Barrie Atkinson, of East Down, took the Masters race from Omagh’s fast finishing Peter Neill, Craig Hutchinson and Michael Magee while the most impressive junior winner was Carlow girl Siofra O’Flaherty, who enjoyed a runaway success