Joseph Ebuya springs snowy surprise

EVEN for the most battle-hardened of athletes, the thick blanket of snow that smothered Holyrood Park on Saturday presented an uniquely arduous challenge.

"It was just hard," said Freya Murray, mirroring the opinion of many who braved the conditions at the Bupa Great Edinburgh International.

Now an established member of Great Britain's cross-country team, this remained awkward terrain for the Scot.

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"I didn't feel like I could run a single stride," she confirmed after finishing eighth. "I had quite long spikes in, 15 millimetres, and that helped. But it was tough for everyone.

"In a curious way, it was enjoyable because it wasn't a typical cross-country. And it was good to see so many people come out to run and to cheer us on as well."

Some flourished, others floundered. Special credit went to the 1,500 hardy souls who refused to bail from the fun run staged earlier. Likewise, for Kenyan Joseph Ebuya and Ethiopian Tirunesh Dibaba. The pair won the men's and women's long-course races in temperatures significantly below those they left behind last week.

With the snow introducing an element of unpredictability, Ebuya's victory was something of a surprise. Joined by his young compatriot, Titus Mbishei, he quickly stretched out the field, the pair creating significant daylight between themselves and Eliud Kipchoge before Ebuya eventually accelerated clear.

Kenesisa Bekele was caught cold, the Ethiopian great finishing fourth. "I'm not in good shape I missed three days training here because of the snow," he later reflected.

By contrast, Steph Twell believes she has returned to prime condition at the outset of a year when she plans to formalise her entry among the world's best.

The adopted Scot came fifth, having led with a lap remaining before the potency of Dibaba was ruthlessly demonstrated, as the Olympic 5,000m and 10,000m champion dashed to the front at the start of the final circuit and never looked like being caught.

Dibaba crossed the line 10 seconds clear of her rivals to add to her 2005 victory at the meeting.

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Although Twell was pipped in a sprint for the line by European champion Hayley Yelling, Edinburgh provided the portents she wanted, and needed.

"I'm happy with my performance, absolutely," Twell said. "It was one place lower than last year but it was different opposition and a very strong field. With the Africans and Hayley in there, I knew it was going to be a strong race.

"Everyone was getting behind me, especially when I was working in a group with the Kenyans. That made it exciting I think. I've always been welcomed here and had great support all around the course. It was fantastic. I absolutely love Holyrood Park, it's my favourite course in the whole world."

Like Twell, Mo Farah came in search of reassurance after a traumatic European cross in Dublin when he required extended medical treatment following his exertions in finishing runner-up. Here, the Londoner bolted ahead, slipped back, and then found himself trailing in behind Steve Vernon and victor Ricky Stevenson.

Again, Farah found himself surrounded by paramedics. "I finished the race here and felt ill, similar to the Europeans," he said. "I'm sure there's nothing wrong. I'm feeling positive about that. I will get a blood test. But I'm not thinking I'm ill."

Up-and-coming 1,500m specialist Stevenson – the country's latest sub-four-minute miler – was thrilled by his unexpected victory. The 21-year-old Teessider said: "A win like this is something you dream about and now it has happened I just cannot believe it, but the feeling's great."

Stevenson can now expect an invite to relocate to Loughborough and join up with UK Athletics elite distance running squad.

Several of Scotland's leading athletes flew to South Africa last night for a three-week camp while Farah will head tomorrow to his habitual base in Kenya.

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"I'll go out there and work hard," he said. "Those two boys who beat Bekele, they're in my training camp there. I'll be working with them. They're beating the best in the world. It wasn't Bekele's day today. It wasn't my day. Every athlete goes through a down patch. It's one of those things where you test yourself and ask where you are and think 'how can I get there?"