Kenya’s Kipsang and Kipyegon take Junior Golds

Mar 21, 2011

Geoffrey Kipsang Kamworor was nobody’s favourite to win the IAAF World Cross Country Championships Junior race, after finishing fourth at his own national trials last month, but the 18-year-old Kenyan showed what a difference a month of dedicated preparation can make with a stunning display of gun-to-tape front running.

Kipsang crossed the line after 8km of hard running in 22.21. Course variations have to be taken into account but cross country aficionados in the Spanish resort town were soon talking about it being the most impressive victory by a junior man since Kenenisa Bekele won a decade ago in 2001.

Straight to the front

He sped away from the gun with his arms pumping like a 400m runner and went through the first 2km at the head of a 14-man group in a swift 5:22. The prevailing thought was that he was making the pace for some of the men behind him, notably his team-mate Isiah Kiplangat Koech, who had run World junior indoor bests over 3000m and 5000m last month before going on to win the Kenya trials race in Nairobi.

However, it was soon clear that Kipsang had other ideas.

“I knew I was in great shape at the training camp and I was just feeling very confident. I decided to just run as hard as I could from the front. I knew there was a danger I might run out of energy but I felt I had a good chance of the gold medal,” said the 18-year-old from the tiny Chepkorio village.

He later revealed that unlike at many previous Championships there had been no team tactics issued by the Kenyan team coaches.

After the brutally fast start, the pace eased slightly on the second of four laps, which was covered in 5:41, but it was enough to run the legs off some of the men chasing him and the pack - containing four Kenyans, four Ethiopians and the lone Ugandan Thomas Ayeko - was reduced to nine men at the halfway point.

Going through the gears

Kipsang then put in a noticeable burst of acceleration in the early stages of the third lap which spread out his rivals.

Ethiopia’s Bonsa Dida tried to hang to stay on Kipsang’s shoulder but later paid for his efforts while Ayeko slipped back a couple of paces and was running comfortably in third place while Patrick Mutunga and Koech were in fourth and fifth respectively, each a stride further back.

However, Kipsang found another gear about a kilometre from home to shake off his challengers and he continued to wind up the pace as the line approached to make sure there were no surprises in the finishing straight.

“I finished fourth in the Kenyan trials but I was taking that race carefully as I knew that this was the important race. The Kenyan trials are hard but I wanted to conserve some energy, and so I ran just to make the team,” added Kipsang, reflecting on the fact that he had arrived in Spain a little below the radar.

Behind Kipsang, both Ayeko and Mutunga went past the flagging Dida in the final kilometre to take the silver and bronze medals respectively, the latter only on the Kenyan team as an after-thought by the selectors after finishing sixth in the Kenyan trials.

Lucky 13 for Kenya

Kenya filled the first four places in the junior men’s race in Bydgoszcz 12 months ago but this time around they couldn’t quite manage perfect score and had to settle for getting their scoring quartet in the top 10 to take their 13th successive title in the category with 20 points.

Ethiopia packed solidly, getting their four men in the top eight but again had to settle for the silver medal, like they had done in 11 of the 12 previous years with 24 points.

Perhaps the gold was lost due to Tesfaye Cheru’s relatively poor run, the winner of the junior men’s race at the Ethiopian trials failing to stay with the leaders after the first lap and eventually finishing 11th.

Ayeko’s second place helped Uganda to the team bronze medals for the second successive year with 50 points.

Junior women’s 

Faith Chepngetich Kipyegon sprinted to victory in the junior women’s event, at Punta Umbria 2011, a sparkling sprint under a brilliant sun.

A year ago, the barefoot Kipyegon lost the individual bronze medal to team-mate Purity Rionoripo in the final sprint to the line. This time, she again went barefoot on the fast, well-grassed Punta Umbria circuit, but she made sure there was a long, sustained final sprint, not a short, explosive one.

At the line, Kipyegon was a full second clear of Ethiopian pair Genet Yalew and Azemra Gebru. With Wagnesh Mekasha taking fourth and Emebet Anteneh eighth, Ethiopia regained the team title from Kenya, 17 points to 19.

Sole Kenyan hope

Kipyegon had been aware of the team situation as she made her winning surge. “With half a lap to go, I realised my team-mates had drifted back,” she said after her win.

“At that point, I realised I was Kenya’s only hope for a gold medal and I concentrated on my sprint.”

Kenyan selection trial winner was the final runner to drop off the lead group, trotting across the line in an isolated fifth position. Nancy Chepkwemoi and Rionoripo followed her home, but the damage was already done.

From the start, it was evident that the team gold was to be between the two East African rivals, but early on there were already signs of an Ethiopian resurgence from the disappointing (from their perspective only) returns from Bydgoczsz. Even in the first lap there were five Ethiopians and four Kenyans in the lead pack.

All the way through, this trend continued until, even in the final group of five, Ethiopian maintained the numbers.

“It was a very tough race,” the winner said. “I was surprised at how strong the Ethiopian runners were. They really made the race very hard.”

Ethiopia had prepared with exactly that in mind. Both Gebru and Yalew remarked on it during the medallists’ press conference.

“What changed was that our preparation was very good,” said Yalew. “Last year we prepared as individuals, not as a team. This year we trained as a national team.”

Yalew was clearly proud to restore the national pride badly dented in Poland a year ago. Asked who of her illustrious countrywomen she looked to as role models, she replied:

“I admire all our athletes, but especially Tirunesh Dibaba and Meseret Defar for what they have achieved for our country.”

Emotional team bronze for Japan

Japan took a highly emotional team bronze medal. A minute’s silence was observed before the race to honour the victims of the devastating earthquake and consequent tsunami which struck the northern part of Japan recently.

Led by Katuski Suga in 12th place – the first non-east African to finish – and Tomoka Kimura in 13th, Japan overtook Eritrea in the team standings in the second half of the race, 74 points to 90.

The first European finisher was Emelia Gorecka of Great Britain in 15th place, building on her 23rd from last year. Born in 1994, Gorecka has one more chance to break into the top 10 in junior ranks.
The USA placed two in the top 20, Aisling Cuffe taking 17th place and Katie Flood 19th.

Australia’s sole competitor, Celia Sullohern was also prominent in the chasing pack throughout the race. She finished 21st.

With Japan third in the team race, Great Britain fifth, the USA seventh and Morocco eighth the top of the teams race had a pleasing international mix.