The World Cross Country Championships won't be in Kenya for another year, but you'd be forgiven for thinking this afternoon's first race in Fukuoka's Uminonakamichi Seaside Park was actually in Mombasa-- particularly with the full set of Kenyan flags at the medal ceremony.
Kenya's perfect score in the junior women's race was sealed by the completion of the second lap of the 2K course. Emmy Chepkirui, Pauline Korikwiang, Veronica Wanjiru and Mercy Kosgei pulled away from Ethiopia's Workitu Ayanu, the last to hold on to the Kenyans' pace, to sort out the medals among themselves.
It was Wanjiru, the 2005 runner-up and pre-race favorite, and Korikwiang, 2005 world youth silver medalist at 3000m, who were strongest, pushing the pace into the third lap. Chepkirui, running barefoot, and Kosgei fell back in turn as Korikwiang pushed the pace, with Wanjiru following closely.
As they turned the last corner, Korikwiang and Wanjiru remained side by side, and they remained together with little to separate them through the finish line. Korikwiang was awarded the victory, with Wanjiru in the second spot for the second consecutive year. Both athletes were given the same time.
"When the Ethiopians were with us, they pushed us," said Wanjiru. Her last-lap push might have been motivated by a feeling of vulnerability, however; she blamed her loss on a knee injury which hampered her speed. Korikwiang, until today the underdog in all the pair's previous meetings, professed confidence: "I was not surprised to finish ahead of Veronica," she said.
After Kosgei and Chepkirui, in third and fourth, respectively, Ethiopia's Belainesh Zemedkun Gebre came up on Ayanu, and Ethiopia's fifth, sixth and seventh places put them securely in second place.
The host Japanese team finished in a pack inside the top twenty to secure third place.
Parker Morse for the IAAF