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Eldoret, KenyaCould it be the lull before a storm? Many say it is.
Gladys Chemweno made it three out of seven as the seven-leg nationwide KCB/Athletics Kenya National Cross Country Series drew to a close in Eldoret on Saturday (16) with most of Kenya’s top runners making a tactical retreat from the action at the Eldoret Polytechnic course.
Cross country running will move a notch higher in Kenya in the next two weeks with the top teams – Kenya Police, Armed Forces, Kenya Prisons and Administration Police – holding their national championships to pick teams that will be on show at the February 20 National Championships that will double up as Kenya’s selection for the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland on 28 March.
“Most of the top athletes were absent in Eldoret as they are camping with their various teams for their respective national championships that will select teams to run at the nationals-cum-trials for Poland,” Athletics Kenya secretary general David Okeyo said.
Back-to-back domestic wins for Chemweno
“They are taking no chances and this time round we expect explosive national trials.”
Chemweno’s win came hot on the heels of her victory in the neighbouring Kapsokwony a week earlier, her time in Eldoret (27:15.0) almost 30 seconds faster.
The back-to-back wins hold her in good stead as she chases a share of the Sh1 million (10,000 Euros) that will be split four ways – Sh 250,000 (2,500 Euro) per athlete – between the four most consistent athletes in the four categories of the series. The junior winners will have their cash prizes ploughed into school fees payment.
One of the conditions for an athlete to stake a claim in the jackpot is an appearance at the National Championships on 20 February.
Chemweno, who trains on the hilly terrain of Marakwet District, employed an electric pace to shake off her pursuers in the final lap, which was enough to deny former World junior 3000m champion Gladys Kemboi (27:20.4) the title.
The winner battled neck-and-neck with Kemboi before exploding in the final kilometre, the pair opening up a 60-metre gap on the chasing pack.
“The race was okay given that the course is easy. I now need to strive for a good performance at the national championships to carry the jackpot. I believe I will make the team to World Cross Country Championships in Poland,” said Chemweno.
Bernard Koech takes down some big names
There were many talking points in the men’s 12km race won by upstart Bernard Koech, most significantly the return to action of Africa 1500m champion, Haron Keitany, who was forced out of the World Championships in Berlin with a calf injury.
And among the scalps that Koech (35:43.0) claimed were Olympic 1500m champion Asbel Kiprop and World 3000m Steeplechase record holder Saif Saaeed Shaheen of Qatar. While Keitany battled to a 16th place finish, Kiprop and Shaheen dropped off midstream at the six-kilometre mark.
Koech also floored upcoming steeplechaser Stephen Kiprotich and John Mwangangi, who won in Kapsokwony a week earlier, battling with second-placed Stephen Kiprotich (35:49.7) until the six-kilometre mark before making his move.
Kiprotich did not react to Koech’s sudden burst of energy, happy to settle for second in the race run under hot conditions at the new Eldoret Polytechnic course that stands at 2,300 metres above sea level some 330 kilometres west of Nairobi.
Japhet Korir took the men’s 8km race title in 23:36.6, beating his training mate David Bett (23:50.8) and Kaptagat-based runner Daniel Selel (23.59.6) who checked in second and third respectively.
Korir, who finished fourth at last year’s World Cross Country Championships in Amman said he was striving lift this year’s national Cross Country title.
“I was at the national trials last year as a novice. But this time I will bank on experience and I will work hard to stamp my authority in Poland,” said Korir, who trains at Sigowet Athletics Club in Kericho.
World youth 1500m champion, Nelly Chebet, beat a classy field that included pre-race favourite Alice Aprot, winner in fifth leg in Kisii and Commonwealth Youth Games 1500m finalist, Purity Cherotich, to win the junior women’s 6km junior race in 20:36.3.
Janet Griza (20:37.5) was second while Janet Jepkemoi (20:41.3) and Cherotich (20:42.7) returned in third and fourth positions.
Lucia Muia, younger sister to World junior 3000m Steeplechase champion, Jonathan Muia Ndiku, and Aprot finished in sixth and seventh places.
It was Chebet’s second straight win after her triumph in Kapsokwony a week earlier.
“The victory has boosted my morale to work hard. After my fifth place in Amman, I now go for a gold medal before graduating into senior ranks,” said Chebet, a Form Four Student at Riruta Central, Nairobi.
The Eldoret times were marginally faster than those clocked at Kapsokwony the previous week, perhaps pointing to the fact that the athletes are revving up well for the grand finale to come.
Now the focus turns to the National Championships-cum-World Cross Country Championships trials on 20 February at Nairobi’s Uhuru Gardens.
In between, however, district, provincial and institutional championships for the Kenya Prisons, Kenya Police, Administration Police, Armed Forces and National Universities will hold.
Elias Makori for IAAF
Leading results at the Seventh KCB/AK Cross Country Series meeting in Eldoret on Saturday (16 Jan):
MEN (12 km): 1. Bernard Koech 35:43.0 2. Stephen Kiprotich 35:49.7 3. John Mwangangi 35:57.6 4. Philemon Limo 35:59.4 5. Levy Matebo 36:21.5 6. Francis Kiprop 36:23.0
Junior MEN (8 km): 1. Japhet Korir 23:36.6 2. David Bett 23:50.8 3. Daniel Selel 23:59.6 4. Philemon Yator 24:03.9 5. Clement Lagat 24:09.7 6. David Maru 24:26.5