As the 136 starters from 39 countries set out for the race we already knew it was Kenya’s day with six out of six golds so far, while Ethiopia could point to three team silvers and a solitary individual bronze.
Within 33 minutes, six Kenyan golds became eight and Joseph Ebuya brought the individual title back to his country for the first time since Paul Tergat won in Belfast 1999.
Once again Kenyan colours were in command of the leading pack from the outset, though Ethiopians Abera Kuma and Trials winner Azmeraw Bekele were in among them. The Kenyan trials winner, and therefore possible favourite, Paul Tanui was prominent before Joseph Ebuya and Richard Mateelong emerged at the head of a leading group of 20 or so. This did not include Gebre-egziabher Gebremariam who could be seen heading a chasing pack on the third lap. It was clear there was going to be a new champion.
After laps of 5:34, 5:32 and 5:33, the race got going in the fourth circuit of 1926m as the Eritreans Samuel Tsegay and Teklemariam Medhin pushed the pace. It was 20-year-old Medhin – ninth in Amman last year – who forced the hardest. At the end of the fourth lap (5:26), Medhin led from Ebuya with a 10m gap to Moses Kipsiro (UGA) then Chakir Boujattaoui (MAR) and Hasan Mahboob (BRN) with the pack slipping away.
Bad day for defending champion
Gebremariam was improving but he was 11th and so with two-thirds of the race gone there was no Ethiopian in the top 10.
The fifth lap was even quicker (5:25) as the leading pair moved away. At the bell Ebuya led from Medhin (both 27:30) with Leonard Komon and Amman runner up Kipsiro the only ones within range.
Gebremariam was still in 11th but fighting hard. Then Ebuya did to Medhin what he had to Kenenisa Bekele in Edinburgh two months earlier, gradually pulling clear to leave the final result in no doubt.
It was all over by the time Ebuya hurdled the final obstacle, at which point he also lapped the wonderfully-named Seychelloise Gaylord Silly.
Medhin was also untroubled in second spot, but the bronze was won with the final stride of Kipsiro, who left it very late to out-sprint Komon at the end of the 100m finishing straight. With four in the top eight, Kenya again won comfortably.
Eritrea ahead of Ethiopia in team standings
Eritrea outpointed Ethiopia for the bronzes, but deposed champion Gebremariam ran with honour to climb into the top 10. That team bronze was his 16th World cross country medal but that was no consolation and it was a shock to see this usually exuberant athlete walking away from the finish in tears.
Further down the field Saudi Arabia-born Simon Bairu provided Canada with an excellent 13th place, one ahead of Ethiopian-born Alemayehu Bezabeh who led Spain to sixth place.
The best European-born athlete was Spaniard Carles Castillejo, just as he was in Amman.
So Ebuya, whose family could not afford to send him to school and who instead helped his parents with chores on their tiny piece of land, is now $33,333 richer with individual and share of team awards. As emulating Tergat, he has also matched the feat of his idol Benjamin Limo who was the World short course champion for Kenya in 1999.
“I want to thank the people of Poland and especially Bydgoszcz for cheering me up as I was racing,” said the 22-year-old whose family was originally from the Turkana District of Kenya which is not known for its athletes. “I had to fight a war to get into the Kenya team,” he explained, but gave credit to the Kenyan training camp.
“The whole of the Kenyan team was training foot of mount Kenya which is as chilly as Bydgoszcz.”
However it should be noted that the weather was sunny and a reasonable 10° during his race. Ebuya added, through Kenyan PR Officer Peter Angwenyi, that he was grateful his entire team had arrived three days before the championships. This was certainly not the case for other countries competing in Bydgoszcz.
When did Ebuya think he had won the race ? “I was not certain I would win because I had not raced before with the one who was following [Mehdin], but when I opened up a 10m gap, I started praying as I was racing, and I thank God that he has given me this win that I have dedicated to the Kenyans.”
Indeed we had seen him crossing himself at an earlier point during the race. The winner, who races in a trademark shell necklace he bought in Nairobi, is now targeting the African Championships in Nairobi where he hopes to defeat Kenenisa Bekele and/or gain a place for Africa to run 5000m at the IAAF Continental Cup in Split.
It has been a good eight days for the Spanish coach / agent duo of Jeronimo Bravo and Julia García.
Last Sunday in Lisbon, Zersenay Tadese brought them world records at 20km and Half Marathon. Now they have the World cross country silver medal through another Eritrean, Mehdin who trains with Tadese. He had been threatening to break through with a series of good wins this year in Spain and it was only in the last lap that he succumbed to the more experienced Ebuya.
“I was thinking ‘a silver medal is enough for now’” he admitted, a thought which was echoed by his coach. “This is already a success,” Bravo told me as we watched the last lap unfold from the sidelines, “we know Ebuya is better.”
Now everyone knows the quality of the Kenyan.
Mark Butler for the IAAF