Ethiopia celebrated a fine double at the Iris Lotto Cross Cup IAAF cross country permit meeting on Sunday, as Abebe Dinkessa successfully defended his title and Teyiba Erkesso took the women's race.
Dinkessa's surge in the second half of the 10.5km race meant European champion Sergiy Lebid had to settle for second place for the fourth successive year. Since winning at the Parc de Laeken in 2001, Lebid has played second fiddle to Kenenisa Bekele, Paul Tergat and now Dinkessa for the last two years.
Dinkessa came from well off the pace to hit the front with two of the nine laps to go and he surged ahead to make it difficult for Lebid's renowned sprint finish to come into play but the Ukrainian star nevertheless took up the challenge and gave chase, eventually crossing the line four seconds behind the defending champion who crossed first in 35:01.
Another Ethiopian, Gebo Burka was a distant third in 35:33.
"It was only when I arrived in Brussels and saw how muddy it was that I decided my best tactics would be to just follow the pace and then make a move in the last lap or two," said Dinkessa. "I'm happy running in mud, and I enjoy cross-country running,but this was really, really muddy and I decided not to go with the leaders.
"I was always confident I would catch them and was pleased with the way I went to the front when I made my move. I will now go back to Ethiopia tomorrow to train and may race next in Seville before running the national trials to try and make the team for the World Cross Country Championships."
Dinkessa was fourth in this year's World Cross Country Championships in France and then fifth in the World Half Marathon Championships in Canada. With a personal best of 26:30.74 for 10,000m in Hengelo last May, he went on to take seventh at the World Championships in Helsinki.
Lebid, the 2001 World Cross Country silver medallist, said: "Once again I am second here but maybe next year I can come back and win - that is after hopefully retaining my European title."
In the women's race, Teyiba Erkesso held off a late challenge from former Ethiopian team-mate Maryam Jamal, now of Bahrain, to win the women's race.
Erkesso, 23, stamped her authority on the race during the third of four main laps as she opened up a comfortable lead, and at that point she seemed to have the race clinched.
Indeed, as the runners began the final lap of the 6km event, Olivera Jevtic of Serbia and Montenegro seemed the biggest danger to the leader as she moved ahead of Jamal into second. But Jamal, the former Tola Zenebeck who now competes for Bahrain, rallied superbly on the final lap and showed the finishing speed that has helped her to success on the track.
Erkesso has a 10,000m best of 31:41.46 and finished 15th in the 2004 World Half Marathon Championships, but she is at home on the country where at the 2004 World Cross Country Championships, which were also held in Brussels, she finished third in the short race (4km) and fifth in the long race (8km).
She appeared to be cruising to victory but with the finishing line looming, she looked over her shoulder to see Jamal fast closing on her and had to respond to hold her off. She said: "I was not worried, I knew I would hold on to win."
Erkesso held on to take the win in 22:18, with Jamal two seconds adrift, and Jevtic another seven behind.