Flashback2017: Kenya reigns supreme at Kampala World Cross

Kenya's Irene Cheptai (C) crosses the finish line to win the women's senior 10km marathon ...
Kenya's Irene Cheptai (C) crosses the finish line to win the women's senior 10km marathon during the World Cross-County Championships in Kampala on March 26, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / ISAAC KASAMANI

The year 2017 presented great success for local athletes as they preserved Kenya’s global dominance in distance running.

Kenyans again proved the opposition to beat as they ruled the IAAF World Cross Country in March, retaining both male and female senior titles and creamed up the biennial event with a gold medal from the inaugural mixed relay in Kampala, Uganda.

Geoffrey Kipsang Kamworor successfully defended his 2015 title from Guiyang, China on a day that marked exactly one year after taking the World Half Marathon title in Cardiff. His back-to-back victory of meant that he was the first senior man in 11 years to retain the senior men’s title.

For most of the race, however, it looked had looked as though someone else would make history for another reason. Uganda’s Joshua Cheptegei, the poster boy of the championships, was looking to bring home his country’s first senior men’s title.

Kamworor led a pack of about 30 athletes through the first of five two-kilometre laps in 5:12, with his teammate Vincent Kipsang Rono leading through 4km in 11:02. Kamworor, Cheptegei, Kenyan cross-country champion Leonard Barsoton and some 10 more runners were on his heels.

Going into the third lap, Cheptegei made his move and with a strong kick developed a solid lead over Kamworor and the rest of the pack. The next four kilometers had the crowd in ecstasy as Uganda’s second victory of the day looked to be looming after Jacob Kiplimo had secured gold in the men’s U20 race an hour earlier. Between kilometres four and six he produced a 5:45 lap and picked up even more speed when recording a 5:34 fourth lap, to lead through 8km in 22:21.

But with just one lap between Cheptegei and a historic gold for the host nation, his reckless speed combined with the hot and humid conditions began to show. The 12-second lead the Ugandan had held over Kamworor entering the final lap was reduced to about seven with just one kilometre to go. Meanwhile, Kamworor gained confidence from his rival’s suffering and swiftly closed the gap.

The ladies team set the pace for men, as Irene Chepet Cheptai lead an unprecedented display of team dominance, with the senior women’s squad to the first-ever top-six sweep at a World Cross Country Championships.

The soft spoken Cheptai, was undefeated this cross country season, she broke from teammates Alice Aprot and Lilian Kasait Rengeruk in the final kilometre to reach the line in 31:57 over the 10km course, four seconds clear of Aprot, and 52 seconds before the first woman not wearing a Kenyan team kit.

In between, Rengeruk, world steeplechase champion Hyvin Kyeng, Agnes Tirop and Olympic 1500m champion Faith Kipyegon all in turn paraded across the line, living up admirably to their ‘team to beat’ billing.

It was our 12th senior women’s team title and fifth out of the past six editions. For Ethiopia, the distant runners-up with 45 points, their fifth team silver in the past six editions.

In the mixed relay, 2008 Beijing Olympics and three time 1,500m World champion Asbel Kiprop lead his team in securing the country’s first gold medal in the inaugural mixed relay.

Kiprop revealed that he was attracted back to the championship after a 10-year absence because of the mixed relay which is shorter than the traditional races.

“I enjoyed my time in Kampala than in Mombasa where it was very hot and humid, even though that was my first international competition and the start of podium finishes. I was using the race as part of my build up for the London Championships, its ideal for middle distance runners since it’s longer by just 500m. I wish that the IAAF would also introduce single sex relay. It would also pull more athletes in the Championship,” Kiprop told Citizen Digital.

In the mixed relay, Kiprop ran impressively and reached the changeover zone at the 2km mark in 5:19. He handed over to Winfried Nzisa Mbithe with a six-second lead over Ethiopa’s Tufa, who passed the wristband to Bone Cheluke.

Mbithe, fuelled on by the many Kenyan fans that had travelled to Kampala the day before and who were racing alongside the course to support their athletes, took off like a storm. Ethiopia’s Cheluke went out more conservatively, looking to reel in the Kenyan further down the course. It represented a chance for the Turkish team and third leg runner Meryem Akdag as the European cross country medallist moved up to the Ethiopian’s shoulder and into second.

Over the last 600m, Cheluke’s conservative approach paid off as she moved her team back into silver position. Meanwhile, Mbithe produced a solid 6:07 to the Ethiopian’s 6:16 to extend the lead Kiprop built to 15 seconds overall. Ethiopia, however, still had world indoor 3000m champion Yomif Kejelcha and 1500m world record-holder Genzebe Dibaba to come.

The Ethiopian went out hard to chase down Bernard Kipkorir Koros, closely followed by the Turkish relay in third, but Uganda’s Ronald Musagala, who initially was set to run the host nation’s final leg, surged from fifth towards the top three to the delight of the partial home crowd.

Kejelcha’s long strides saw him slowly close the gap to Koros and away from Turkey and Uganda to leave the two nations battle for bronze. As Beatrice Chepkoech received the wristband from Koros (5:34) with a 12 second lead over Kejelcha (5:22), all eyes turned to Dibaba.

Chepkoech, aware of the threat of Dibaba closing in on her, regularly glanced over her shoulder. Dibaba was working hard to close down the gap between herself and the Kenyan. With 600m to go she was still about 15 metres behind the leader and not even her impressive 5:27 effort was enough to catch Chepkoech in the end. With arms aloft and cheered on by the rest of her team behind the finish line, Chepkoech crossed the line to take the first gold of the day for the Kenyan relay in 22:22, eight seconds clear from Ethiopia.

The battle for bronze went to Turkey in the end (22:37), where Yasmin Can produced a strong 5:29 effort on the last leg. Hosts Uganda finished in fourth (23:03), with Bahrain in fifth.

Materials from the www.iaaf.org was used to compile this report.

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