WEYNAY GHEBRESILASIE overcame a leg problem and a snowbound course to triumph in the North of England Junior Men’s (Under-20) race at Knowsley Safari Park on Saturday.
The 18-year-old Sunderland Harrier charged through the field to win the title by 12 seconds after being 50 metres behind the leaders and among the tail-enders just after the start.
He had been warned by Sunderland Harriers’ coaching staff to start more conservatively after starting like a greyhound in the Durham Cathedral relays before slowing over the final lap. But, on the face of it, he seemed to be taking the advice a little too far.
The Eritrean Olympian, having his first race in snow, explained in broken English after crossing the finish line why he was so far back at the start: “ My leg, not good. I had problem. I could not start fast.’’
He had missed three days’ training last week and had a hospital appointment on Wednesday and has been referred to a podiatrist to correct a foot problem that seems to be affecting his leg.
Ghebresilasie eventually got into his stride and after one mile had been covered he managed to join the back of the leaders for the gruelling contest ahead.
The conditions, with six inches of snow in places, were said by cross country stalwarts to be the worst for a Northern Championship since Morecambe in 1957. Each lap of the Safari Park course had been shortened by 300 metres for safety reasons.
After the first lap had been covered, the Millfield resident, who is seeking asylum in Sunderland, was duelling for the lead with North East champion Calum Johnson.
The Gateshead Harrier is a real tough of the track with him being a member of the GB triathlon squad. This was not going to be any walk in the park for Ghebresilasie, You could see it would be a hard struggle ahead, as beads of sweat lined his brow and the pained looks of a distance runner climbing one of the torturous hills, was there for all to see.
But this was the Eritrean’s steeplechaser’s plan to take the race on over the second and final lap and he was getting on with it, despite having made up lost ground quickly.
Ghebresilasie’s strength was in the long downhill sections of the course where his slight lead began to grow, Johnson was strong going up the hills.
In the closing stages, the gap grew and Ghebresilasie was on his way to a famous victory – the first Sunderland Harriers’ Northern triumph since England football international Jill Scott won the under-13s race in 2000.
He said: “It was very hard. I am cold and wet. I’m happy to win.’’
Overshadowed by Ghebresilasie’s golden performance was that of his clubmate Oliver James who improved from 53rd last year to finish a superb seventh this time after being fifth for most of the way.
Washington’s Barry Maskell finished 13th (29.13) to help Gateshead win the team title.
Result: 1 Weynay Ghebresilasie (Sun Harr) 27.42, 2 Calum Johnson (Gates) 27.54, 3 Toby Loveridge (Liv Pem) 28.03, 4 Charlie Hudson (Sale), 5 Thomas Traviss-Pollard (Holmfirth) 28.34, 6 Jai Vernon-McGuigan (Liv Pem) 28.36, 7 Oliver James (Sun Harr) 28.41, 8 Ryan Moore (Sale) 28.51.