Kenyan runners soar at world cross country

By sportsnewsarena correspondent
Mar 24, 2013
  • Faith Kipyegon races to victory in the women's Junior 6km race at the World cross country championships.

  • Japheth Korir wins the 12km senior men's title at the World cross country championships..

Japheth Korir, Emily Chebet and Faith Kipyegon ensured Kenya reign supreme at the world cross country championships in Sunday in Bydgoszcz, Poland.

On a day when three other titles went to athletes who were the favourites, or among the leading candidates, Kenya’s Japhet Korir provided the one genuine surprise in taking the senior men’s title. Reigning champion Kipyegon successfully defended her junior women’s crown while Kenyan Leonard Barsoton earned silver behind Ethiopia's Hagos Gebrhiwet.

2010 IAAF World Cross Country champion Chebet enjoyed an impressive return to the top of the medals podium in winning her second global title and thereby winning about Ksh.2.6 million.

Korir, the youngest 12k champ

Korir, in only his third race in the last nine months after getting badly spiked in the Kenyan trials for the 2012 IAAF World Junior Championships last June, also become the youngest ever senior champion and only the second teenager to win the long race, following in the footsteps of the prodigious Kenenisa Bekele.

He consistently to the fore after the race started to hot up after the halfway point and then pushed hard in the final kilometre to gradually edge away from Ethiopia’s defending champion Imane Merga.

Korir crossed the line after 12km of running, with the icy course getting ever more difficult to navigate after three previous races, in 32:45 with Merga six seconds in arrears.

It was a valiant defence by Merga but in the end, he had no answer to Korir when the latter pushed hard for home with just under a kilometre remaining.

Korir and Uganda’s Timothy Torotich continued to be the driving forces on the fourth lap and by 8km the group had been reduced to six: Korir, Merga, Torotich and his well-known compatriot Moses Kipsiro, Eritrea’s Teklemariam Medhin and Australia’s Collis Birmingham.

However, the tiring Merga threw in the towel in the last lap and visibly settled for second place about 200m from the line letting Korir, just sixth in the Kenyan trials last month and the last man to be named to the team after his fitness issues since the summer, cruise to victory.

Medhin, three years after winning the silver medal in the same city, took the bronze on this occasion in 32:54, closing the gap on Merga in the final few hundred metres as the latter eased off the accelerator.

The three medallists were followed home by Kipsiro and Torotich. 

Merga may have lost his individual crown but he got some compensation as Ethiopia won the team contest for the first time since 2005, after six consecutive Kenyan victories.

Chebet turns the clock to win again

Chebet, 27, recreated her golden memories of the Myslecinek Park course in storming to victory ahead of Ethiopia’s Hiwot Ayalew and Belaynesh Oljira.

A total of 97 athletes from 29 countries contested the 8km course, with Chebet chasing down Olympic 3000m Steeplechase fifth placer Ayalew in the closing 200m of the race in an exhilarating finish to capture the gold in 24:24 ahead of Ayalew’s 24:27.

The pair were almost inseparable for the entire race as they joined Ireland’s European Cross Country Champion Fionnuala Britton at the head of the pack from the gun, and asserted their intentions at the front by the end of the first of four laps.

Chebet however, had a point to prove as she had failed to qualify for her national squad for the 2011 Championships and finished only fourth in the Kenyan trial for this event.

Indeed, she surprised many by reeling in the tiring Ayalew in the final 100m to sprint to an unexpected victory once again.

A bronze medallist at the 2012 African Cross Country Championships, she showed glimmers of a return to form back in September, recording a 10km road personal best of 30:58 in Tilburg but her current cross country shape was uncertain.

The 23-year-old Ayalew additionally experienced a big improvement, progressing from 11th in the 2011 event in Punta Umbria to take the silver medal.

Further back, Olympic 10,000m fifth placer Belaynesh Oljira captured the bronze (24:33) ahead of Bahrain’s Shitaye Eshete (24:34), who placed 12th in the 2011 event and also finished just behind Oljira in the London Olympics.

In the team standings, Chebet led the Kenyan outfit to emphatic gold medal-winning display.

Kipyegon majestic in title defence

19-year-old Kipyegon who became just the third woman to retain her title in the history of the event, replicated the achievements of her fellow countrywoman Viola Kibiwot in 2001 and 2002, and Ethiopia’s Genzebe Dibaba in 2008 and 2009.

Contesting three laps over a frozen and snow-covered 6km course, Kipyegon initially held back after the gun, sitting in fifth place with her teammate 17-year-old Agnes Chebet Tirop and Ethiopia’s Ruti Aga, the World junior 5000m silver medallist at the fore of the field.

Striding out over an undulating route with a few patches of bare grass in below-zero temperatures, Kipyegon – who also won the World junior 1500m title on the track last summer – joined Tirop at the front of the leading pack at just after the first kilometre.

Just under a kilometre remaining, Ethiopian trials winner Heroye rejoined the pair only for the Kenyans to pull clear again up final the long uphill stretch and then, on the decline, Kipyegon showed an impressive change of pace to sprint away from her compatriot in the final 300m for victory.

The winner eased off in the final few metres and Tirop was awarded the same time of 17.51 for the silver medal as Heroye hung on and crossed the line six seconds adrift to take third place.

Further back, Kenya’s Caroline Chepkoech Kipkirui finished fourth in 18:09 with early leader Aga fifth in 18:18. In the team contest, Kenya comfortably claimed the spoils with 14 points, packing their four scoring women into the top five places to regain the title they lost in 2011 by two points to Ethiopia.

In fact, the top 12 positions were occupied by just Kenyan and Ethiopian women.

Gebrhiwet rules men junior

Ethiopia's Hagos Gebrhiwet confirmed his status as the favourite to take the junior men's title with a wonderfully assured and mature run, hitting the front with 500m to go before winning his first major international championship medal.

It was the first gold medal of what could be, and should be, a star-studded career. Ethiopia win junior men title Still just 18, Gebrhiwet clocked a World junior indoor 3000m record of 7:32.87 in Boston at the start of last month.

He also ran a World junior 5000m record of 12:47.53 at the Samsung Diamond League meeting in Paris last summer before going on to make the London 2012 Olympic Games final over the same distance.

However, regardless of his accomplishments in the future, this was a moment to remember for the delighted Gebrhiwet. “It was a very tough course but I am so very happy,” he reflected.

He covered the 8km course in an astonishingly fast 21:04, the fastest winning time since 1993.

The pace was made so quick by the hard work of Gebrhiwet's Kenyan opponents, notable the eventual silver medallist Leonard Barsoton.

From the gun, the Kenyans tried to control the race and after just 500m there was a quartet of red shirts at the head of the race.

However, behind their Rift Valley rivals, Gebrhiwet and his team mate Muktar Edris were running comfortably and easing themselves into the race.

He just bided his time before executing the attack that delivered him the gold medal.

Having two men on the podium helped Ethiopia win the junior men's team title for the first time since 1998 and only the second time since 1988 with Kenya taking the honours on every other occasion.