Caroline marks 40th anniversary in style
African athletes, as expected, took the spoils at a high quality IAAF International Cross-country at Greenmount which was celebrating its 40th year.
Their dominance was not affected by the rain and muddy conditions and their biggest challenge came from Ireland's Fionnuala McCormack and GB star Andy Vernon.
The Women's 5.6k event was fast from the gun. A quartet comprising former African junior champion Caroline Kipkirui, Ethiopians Gotytom Gebreslase and Birtukan Adamu plus McCormack soon broke clear of the main field which was led by England's Pippa Woolven.
Things changed dramatically on the second lap when an in-form Kipkirui seemed to glide over the mud and quickly establish a 30 metres lead with the Ethiopians and McCormack contesting second place.
There was no stopping a fired up Kipkirui on the final lap as she crossed the line with a huge 42 seconds winning margin in 18 mins 53 secs. Only three seconds covered the next three with Gebreslase snatching second ahead of Adamu who had also finished third in 2015. Adamu beat McCormack by just one second after the unfortunate Irish woman lost a shoe in the closing stages.
England's Woolven and Clare Duck ran well in fifth and sixth positions, while top Northern Ireland finisher was Fionnuala Ross in 16th.
A delighted Kipkirui said: "God gave me the strength to win this race. I pushed a bit on the second lap but nobody came with me. I think my fast track times helped me here. I am now going home to qualify for the World Cross-country in March and hopefully the World 10,000 metres later in London."
Twice previous winner McCormack commented: "I am disappointed as I lost a shoe with one kilometre remaining. If this hadn't happened I might have got second. I like Greenmount but it hasn't been a good day ".
In the Men's 8.2k event, there was the usual frantic start with African athletes well to the fore. At the end of the second lap Olympic steeplechase champion Conseslus Kipruto of Kenya and Rio 10,000 metres finalist Abraham Cheroben were fighting for the lead with a determined Andy Vernon some 30 metres back.
It was clear on the third lap that victory was the preserve of either Kipruto or Cheroben. They began a brutal sprint battle 200 metres from the line with gold medallist Kipruto just getting the verdict by one second in 24 mins 36 secs.
Vernon was an impressive third, some 19 seconds further back followed by Hassan Chahdi of France (25.20), with England's Jonathan Taylor (25.27) and Lachlan Oates of Scotland completing the top six. Local runner Adam Kirk Smith was 12th, one place ahead of Seamus Lynch.
Kipruto said: "I had a back problem earlier but I got treatment and it was fine. I liked the course and waited to the very end to make my move. Being an Olympic champion has changed my life. I got silver in the World Championships in Beijing and I am determined to make that gold in London this summer."
A pleased Vernon observed: "That was my hardest race this season. The course was very heavy and I couldn't get a rhythm. However, I am now getting back to something like the old Andy Vernon."