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Timbilil looks to Lausanne to silence Sydney ghosts

Alice Timbilil of Kenya crosses the finish in Vilamoura to take 2000 IAAF World Junior Cross Country silver (Mark Shearman)Alice Timbilil of Kenya crosses the finish in Vilamoura to take 2000 IAAF World Junior Cross Country silver (Mark Shearman) © Copyright

Kenya’s Alice Jemeli Timbilil who is just 19years-old, won the national senior long course (8km) crown at the end of February, and now has her young eyes firmly fixed on senior international glory, when the 31st IAAF World Cross Country Championships take place in Lausanne - La Broye this weekend (29-30 March).

Timbilil hopes that success in Lausanne will help to evaporate her painful memories of the 2000 Sydney Olympics, where as a young naive village girl - she was then aged 17 – she misjudged the number of laps in the 10,000m and thought she had finished, when in fact she had another lap still to run. Though eventually finishing fourteenth in a personal best of 31:50.22, she was very upset by the experience.

”I had thought I had completed the race, only to be informed I had actually run 24 laps. I was devastated because I thought I would do quite well even if I missed the medals,” confirmed Timbilil. “That experience has simply refused to go, however hard I try to forget it.”

Timbilil started her successful international running career in 1999, when as a class seven primary school pupil at Kemeliet in Uasin Gishu, having just turned 16 years of age (16 June) she represented Kenya at the inaugural IAAF World Youth Championships in Poland, winning the 3000m gold (17 July).

There was no looking back, and the following winter Timbilil took a silver medal in the 6km junior women’s race at the World Cross Country Championships in Vilamoura, Portugal, behind compatriot Vivian Cheruiyot.

However, in the following two years, Timbilil’s progress stagnated as she finished 16th in the junior race at the World Cross in Ostend, and then missed the 2002 season through injury, though she did launch a brave battle to defy the doctors, finishing 10th in that year’s national short course race.

This year, Timbilil, who is now a third form student at Kapkenda, has been able to re-focus again on her running future, easing to victory in the senior women's 8-km race at the Kenyan trials, beating established athletes like Pamela Chepchumba, Catherine Ndereba, and Margaret Okayo.

Her winning time was 26:56, to Chepchumba’s 27:01. Jepkorir Aiyabei was third in 27:12, while Ndereba, who she regards as her heroine, trailed in 10th in 27:58, and Okayo, the reigning Boston City Marathon champion was 17th in 28:26.

After flooring such seasoned athletes at home, and subsequently taking an impressive international victory at the 71st Cinque Mulini race in Italy on 9 March, Timbilil sees no reason why she should miss the medal bracket in Lausanne.

"I will just run my race in Lausanne and I hope to win the gold," said a shy and soft-spoken Timbilil,

She is not scared of the Ethiopians, only the name of the absent Paula Radcliffe (who is concentrating on the London marathon) seems to impact on her. “She (Radcliffe) is a tough runner, others are just like us,” confirms Timbilil.

Omulo Okoth for IAAF