Cheptai eyes being Kenya’s 6th senior women WXC queen
Kenya has produced five senior women individual champions in the history of the IAAF World Cross and after a stunning victory at the 2017 Nationals, Irene Jebet Cheptai is hoping to crown the achievement by becoming the sixth in Kampala, Uganda.
Her emphatic victory over reigning titleholder, Agnes Tirop, Olympics champion, Faith Chepng’etich and African Cross gold winner, Alice Aprot- far more established names in distance running catapulted her to among the favourites for the top medal on March 27 in neighbouring country Uganda.
With the distance having been stepped up by two kilometres to 10 beginning this edition, Cheptai mastered the conditions at Nairobi Uhuru Gardens to run the finish out of her more illustrious competitors and instantly, came of age.
The 25 year-old Kenya Police runner is however, not a stranger to the World Cross or representing her nation in international meets having recorded her third straight cross victory of the season last weekend.
Cheptai won World Cross junior silver at the 2008 edition in Edinburgh before making the team as a senior and finishing 10th in 2013 in Bydgoszcz and seventh last time out in Guiyang, China where Tirop charged to the crown.
But having spent most of her running career thus far in the shadows, Cheptai is ready to step into the podium stage with her victory at the Nationals giving her encouragement she can scale the heights in Uganda.
Cheptai is however, under no illusions Kampala will be a coronation of her win at the event labelled as the toughest outside the World Cross with the conquered big guns out to re-establish the order.
“I’m really motivated to have defeated Cheng’etich and Aprot. It was not easy. I got courage midway through the third lap when I decided to go in front. I know it will be very competitive but we are going to see how it goes,” Cheptai told reporters after causing the biggest upset at the Nationals.
Just like the stellar cast she led to the tape, Cheptai conceded the increased distance took a toll on her as she outlasted the field for what is perhaps her biggest career victory yet.
“It was very painful but I was patient and managed to win. I sprinted so that I could help my team Kenya Police. I expect to do well in Kampala,” she added.
Cheptai underlined her intentions when she won the tough Discovery Cross Country on January 29 when she beat former World Junior champion Lillian Kasait Rengeruk to the honours with the clocks returning 26:29 against 26:34.
Incidentally, Kasait followed her across the tape last Saturday in a repeat of their finishing order from Discovery.
At the 54th European Champion Clubs Cup Cross Country Albufeira, Portugal barely a week later (February 5), Cheptai was once again untouchable, delivering a crushing 22 second victory over Spanish athlete Trihas Gebre in 20:18.
Cheptai is further driven to perform in Kampala after her Rio 2016 Olympics dream collapsed at the July 1 Trials in Eldoret when she dropped out of the women 10000m race won by Vivian Cheruiyot.
The DNF soiled what was otherwise another solid season where she won four Cross Country races and finished second to Aprot at the Nationals.
At the 2015 edition in China, Tirop bucked the trend where only athletes who won or finished fourth at the Trials went on to be crowned World Cross champions.
Three of the previous Kenyan World Cross women long race individual gold medallists went to the event as national champions.
Cheptai is hoping to be the fourth.
PREVIOUS CHAMPIONS/FINISH AT TRIALS
1994- Hellen Chepng’eno (Kenya Prisons)/ Won Trials
2009- Florence Kiplagat (Kenya Police)/Won Trials
2010- Emily Chebet (Administration Police)/4th Trials
2011- Vivian Cheruiyot (Kenya Police)/Won Trials
2013- Emily Chebet (Administration Police)/4th Trials
2015- Agnes Jebet (Kenya Police)/2nd Trials
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