A decade later, Kiprop relishes second World Cross gold

The victorious Kenyan Mixed Relay Team. (PHOTO/IAAF)
The victorious Kenyan Mixed Relay Team. (PHOTO/IAAF)

It was as if he had never left. Ten years after winning the junior title at the 2007 IAAF World Cross in Mombasa, Asbel Kiprop returned to Kampala, Uganda and set the Kenyan Mixed Relay team on course for victory as he savoured his second gold medal at the centrepiece global event on grass

All the pre-event talk ahead of the inaugural running of the event that was added at the World Cross roster was the possible anchor leg showdown between the Kenyan three-time men 1500m world champion and Ethiopia’s track star Genzebe Dibaba- the two biggest track and field stars lined up for the race.

Teams had the option of fielding their runners in any order they wished and at the end of it all, five of the 12 finishers including Ethiopia were anchored by female runners with hosts Uganda disqualified rule 170.11 of the IAAF Competitions that bars teams from late confirmation/changing team composition and or/running order for relays.

On Sunday at the Kololo Independence Grounds in Kampala, the first shock of the 2017 World Cross was opting for Kiprop- with his vastly superior finishing speed- to start the Kenyan challenge but in the end, it turned to be a masterstroke.

The 2008 Beijing Olympics 1500m winner kick-started the 10th anniversary of his international career by completing the 2km course in 5:19, opening a six second gap on Ethiopia’s Welde Tufa (5:25) and from then on, there was no catching the Kenyans.

“I have enjoyed the race out there although it was hot and sticky. It’s a great concept to have the Mixed Relay at the World Cross and I hope it continues being part of it from now on and I would be interested in running here again,” Kiprop who is bidding to tie his retired Moroccan idol, Hicham El Guerrouj by winning a fourth world title in London during the summer enthused.

Kiprop hurdled his jubilant teammates together for their press engagements as Kenya got off to a dream start at the 42nd World Cross, the mixed relay gold proving critical in handing their nation the overall title as they shared a final tally of four with old enemies Ethiopia.

Winfred Nzisa Mbithe then took up the baton, or rather the wrist band and ran the second leg in 6:07 before Bernard Kipkorir stormed to the fastest lap of the entire competition when he breezed to 4:58, taking Kenya out of sight of Ethiopia.

With Genzebe waiting to scorch through the final lap, Kipkorir handed Beatrice Chepkoech a 39 second cushion over Yomif Kejelcha (16:24 against 17:03) to bring the gold medal home.

The younger Dibaba sister clawed back some of the huge advantage when she uncorked an explosive 5:27 closing lap against the 5:58 ran by Chepkoech but the finish tape came to soon even for a speedster of her undoubted prowess as Kenya (22:22) completed a seven second triumph over Ethiopia (22:30).

“It is exciting and that is why I came back to the World Cross. The long distances and the bad experience I had in Mombasa put me off,” Kiprop added.

“This is a nice way to start the season, with a world title and this will motivate ahead of the track season and London,” the Daegu 2011, Moscow 2013 and Beijing 2015 world champion, 27, added.

“Wow, this is amazing! I’m so happy for winning my first gold medal for Kenya and I hope more will come,” Chepkoech, 25 who was fourth in the women 3000m steeplechase at Rio 2016 Olympics last year and a All Africa Games bronze medallist in 2015 gushed.

-Team tactics-

Kiprop explained the reasoning he started was to open up a big lead from the onset was to put his teammates under less pressure.

“We wanted to control it from the beginning,” he added.

In the closing stages of the race, Kiprop, Mbithe and Kipkorir came close the finish line to will on Chepkoech and broke into celebration the minute it became clear they had made history as the first ever winners of the event.

Genzebe who is eying to break the world 5000m outdoor record when the international track season kicks off next month rued the huge gap she had to close.

“My teammates left me with too much to do. I tried all I could to chase her (Chepkoech) but in the end there was nothing I could do. I’m grateful for the silver and this is a good event for the World Cross,” the former women junior winner from the Bydgoszcz 2008 edition said through a translator.

“I’m looking forward to the track season where I will try to win another world title in London. The course was tough with the hills but it was okay,” Genzebe who took time to sign autographs to a horde of her admirers after the medal ceremony underlining her star appeal added.

Her team’s choice of using their fastest runners to run the final two legs ultimately cost them the title.

Behind Kenya and Ethiopia, the Turkish team boasting of four naturalised Kenyans in Aras Kaya (5:31), Meryem Akdag (6:13), Ali Kaya (5:24) and Yasemin Can (5:29) won bronze in 22:37.

Incidentally, Kaya was captured by Citizen TV celebrating their individual and team medals while spotting a Kenyan wristband before a team official or squad mate advised him to lose it when they came for the interview.

It showed at least, they are Kenyan at heart!

-Mutwiri Mutuota is reporting from Kampala, Uganda

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