Antrim International Cross Country: Kenyan pair Cheruiyot and Kipkemboi secure wins

Cheruiyot finished a second behind compatriot Elijah Manangoi in London last August
Cheruiyot finished a second behind compatriot Elijah Manangoi in the World Championships in London

Kenyan athletes Timothy Cheruiyot and Margaret Chelimo Kipkemboi clinched narrow victories at the Antrim International Cross Country meeting.

Cheruiyot beat Ethiopia's Mogos Tuemay by inches in the men's race with Morocco's Soufiane Elbakkali in third.

Chelimo Kipkemboi finished one second ahead of Fotyen Tesfay of Ethiopia in the women's event.

England's Andy Vernon and Verity Ockenden finished fourth with Fionnuala McCormack sixth in the women's race.

Cheruiyot, after winning World Championship 1,500m silver in London five months ago, was very much the class act of the men's field but there was always that doubt about how he would fare in the Northern Irish muck.

However, the 22-year-old stayed comfortably in the leading group on the opening lap in the 8km event and his 1500m speed showed in the closing stages as he held off 20-year-old Ethiopian Tuemay, with both crossing the line in 23 minutes and 12 seconds.

Moroccan Elbakkali, fourth in the 3,000m steeplechase at the Rio Olympics, completed the podium spots, 20 seconds behind the leading duo.

Vernon was a further nine seconds back in fourth, just ahead of Welshman Kristian Jones, with Hugh Armstrong the leading Irishman in seventh spot and Neil Johnston the top local in 17th.

Cheruiyot's victory continued African domination of the men's race, with American Dathan Ritzenhein the last non-African winner when the event was staged at Stormont in 2005.

In the 5.4km women's race, 2012 and 2013 winner McCormack was at the head of the leading group after lap one but dropped off the pace by the end of the next circuit as Ethiopian Alemitu Hawi battled with the three athletes who ultimately filled the top three positions.

With Hawi fading on the final circuit, Swansea Harrier Ockenden got up to pip the Ethiopian in fourth spot as they both finished 22 seconds behind winner Chelimo Kipkemboi.

McCormack, 33, was a further five seconds back in sixth as the twice European Champion's disappointing winter continued.

Chelimo Kipkemboi's victory was no surprise after her fifth place in the 5,000m at last summer's World Championships.

Women's runner-up Tesfay was sixth in last year's World Cross Country Championships in Kampala while the women's podium places were completed by Bahrain's Bontu Edao Rebitu.

Scottish-based Armagh athlete Fionnuala Ross was the leading Northern Ireland finisher in ninth as those behind her included Irish champion Shona Heaslip, who had to settle for 19th spot.

Kilkeel's marathon talent Laura Graham found the cross country conditions a tough proposition as she finished 39th - almost five minutes off the pace.

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