Geoffrey Mutai dominates the field in the Iten XC (Ignatius Kemboi / Ginadin Communications) © Copyright
Contested on a punishing hilly course in hot conditions, the crowds braved the sweltering conditions also witnessed Lineth Chepkurui cap her first win in the circuit in the women’s senior race as Isaiah Kiplagat stormed to the tape ahead of all in the junior men’s 8km.
The meet held in one of the recognised cradles of distance running with an elevation of some 2600m above sea level had international runners from Sweden, Britain and Finland among others testing their mettle against the Kenyan thoroughbreds.
With 655 competitors spread across the four races, Iten was a colourful conclusion for the series that set off in Tala on 6 November and navigated through Kipkelion (13 November), Kapsokwony (20 November), Embu (27 November), Kisii (4 December) and Nyahururu (18 December).
Junior Women 6km
Still preferring to run in bare feet, Chepng’etich who left Bydgoszcz World Cross a bronze winner last year proved she is aptly equipped to succeed Mercy Cherono as World champion in Punta Umbria, Spain, come March with another breathtaking performance in the 6km race.
After being closely trailed by Janet Kisia, another revelation of renowned Iten based Irish coach, Brother Colm O’Connell from the gun through the opening 4km; Chepng’etich simply obeyed the cue from the bell and engaged the gears to complete a 21:07.0 triumph, with the challenger coming home ten seconds (21:17.7) in arrears.
The front pair left the field clutching straws with Naomi Chepng’eno (21:22.8) bringing the challengers to the tape for the last podium place as Jackline Chepng’eno (21:46.6) sealed fourth.
“The race was good and if I make the team, I will go and bring gold. This season, I have run well and I believe I have what it takes. I have been training to run with shoes and I’m intending to use them at the nationals though I’m so used to run without them,” the standard seven pupil at Keminget Primary School, Kericho said.
“I have trained hard this time having enjoyed competing at the World Cross so that I can return there especially now since it will be held after every two years,” the star of the day who added Iten to her winning sequence following victories at Tala (opening), Embu (fourth) and Nyahururu (sixth) meetings added.
“She is the best hope for gold in the junior 6km and we have instructed her coaches not to let her compete until the nationals. We need to preserve her,” David Letting, the coach who crafted Kenya’s best ever World Cross performance in Poland stated.
Junior Men 8km
Isaiah ‘Chairman’ Kiplagat or Kiplangat as he prefers to be called to differentiate him from the head of Athletics Kenya took only 2.5km to reduce a field of more than 150 starters to spectators in the men’s 8km run in a crushing triumph.
For most of the race, Kiplagat, a fourth finisher in Bydgoszcz had a clear view ahead as he raced against his own shadow and the clock to complete the course in 24:35.0.
The expected challenge from Bydgoszcz teammate, Japheth Korir (third in Kipkelion and Kisii) never materialised although the finisher in Poland did separate himself from the pack to romp home a comfortable second in 25:01.8 with Charles Kimeli (25:05.6) closing the podium.
“I snapped my right ankle and took long to recover but I can say I’m in very good shape. I want to return with a medal from Spain since I missed one last year and from how I felt today, that is possible.
“My body felt comfortable enough and that is why I broke away very early and I’m pleased it worked and I did not feel any strain,” Kiplagat who was second on his return to action in Kipkelion said.
“From what I have seen in this series, I need to train very hard since the nationals will not be a joke. My dream is to close my junior year at the World Cross and with the likes of Kiplagat and others who are in good shape, the competition for places in the national team will be stiff,” Korir, the bronze winner in Poland, admitted. Paul Lonyangata (25:22.3), a younger brother to 2006 World Cross junior winner, Mangata Ndiwa was seventh.
Senior Women 8Km
Lineth Chepkurui, who in addition to Poland has competed at the Edinburgh and Amman World Cross editions, looks set to add Spain to her list if her dominance over a packed field here is a yardstick.
At the starting line, Chepkurui was side by side with among others, Worlds 5000m silver winner, Sylvia Kibet, Viola Kibiwott who starred at the World Cross as a junior and marathoner Rose Kosgei among others.
However, the Bydgoszcz fourth placer and Armed Forces officer had a battle-hardened strategy of taking off from the gun and running the field aground. At the previous round in Nyahururu another marathoner, Sharon Cherop, matched and beat Chepkurui for pace at the closing stages to deny her victory.
This time round, Chepkurui weathered the intense challenge of another ultimate distance runner, Kosgei before accelerating from her with 800m to complete a gun-to-tape victory of 28:26.6.
“I have decided to be running from the front and stage my own race since I realised running with others cost me medals in my previous World Cross. Last year, I was in very good shape but I missed the podium by employing poor tactics. This time around, I will go ahead and decide matters at the finish,” the athlete who holds the world’s all time best over 12km said.
Kosgei was the bridesmaid in 28:32.0 with Kibet (28:51.0) finishing in the bronze position. “It felt good to be out there today and I’m targeting the World Cross as a build-up for Daegu,” Kibet revealed. “After running at the Commonwealth Games, I rested for two weeks before beginning training but I fell sick for three weeks and this was my first race since recovering and I’m feeling good.”
Kibiwott was 11th.
Senior Men 12km
Another deep field of almost 170 lined-up for the showstopper that morphed into a tactical affair. Metric miler Nickson Chepseba assumed the front running duties at the start and took the runners through the opening 3km before briefly exchanging the lead with Geoffrey Rono.
John Chepkwony, winner in Kipkelion and Embu then took over the lead with Geoffrey Mutai, the worlds’ second fastest marathoner in 2010 (Rotterdam) caught up with the graduating junior.
With one and a half-lap to go, Philemon Rono and Richard Sigei had entered the mix before Mutai, a runner-up at Rotterdam and Berlin marathons last year deployed the burst that crushed the challengers.
The African 10,000m bronze winner cruised home in 37:05.3, putting daylight behind him and runner-up Rono who came in 37:52.3 with Sigei (37:59.9) winning the battle for third against Chepkwony who registered 38:05.9.
“I’m still in the shape I was in last year and that is encouraging. My focus this season is to win a big marathon and the exact race will become clearer by the time I compete at the Kenya Police Cross Country Championships.
“Cross country is a good event for build-up and I’m encouraged by what I did here today,” Mutai, a victor at Sotokoto Half Marathon in his swashbuckling 2010 expressed. World 3000m Steeplechase record holder Saif Shaheen started but dropped out midway.
Series Jackpot winners to be determined at national championships
With her fourth victory, Chepng’etich (4) will vie for the $3,125 (Sh250,000) series jackpot in her race against Alice Aprot (7) at the February 19 national championships. She just needs to finish ahead of Aprot. Nicholas Togom, a younger brother of Amman sixth finisher, Matthew Kisorio sealed the jackpot in the junior men’s category. No one qualified in the senior women 8km but Chepkwony (9) and Charles Kibet (7) will battle it out at the selection event.
Iten, home to legends, a magnet for aspiring international runners
With the region having produced the likes of world 3000m record holder Daniel Komen, 2005 World 5000m champion Benjamin Limo, former Boston Marathon winner Ibrahim Hussein and New York Marathon women’s champion Edna Kiplagat among others, the area witnesses some 2000 runners of different nationalities using its rugged terrain for training.
“It’s an inspiration to be here and to run with such world class runners,” Annika Ostman, a female orienteering runner from Sweden said. “They are fantastic runners and it proves that they just do not win, they work hard.”
“We should encourage more cross country races in this area so that we can have even more great runners,” Komen, who is also the local AK branch chairman noted.
Mutwiri Mutuota (The Standard) for the IAAF
SENIOR MEN 12km -
1. Geoffrey Mutai 37:05.3
2. Philemon Rono 37:52.3
3. Richard Sigei 37:59.9
4. John Chepkwony 38:05.9
5. Stephen Kiprotich 38:16.7
6. Edwin Korir 38:27.7
7. Charles Bett 38:35.3
8. Nelpha Sirma 38:38.8
9. Yusuf Biwott 38:40.4
10. Laban Mutai 38:41.9
SENIOR WOMEN 8km -
1. Lineth Chepkurui 28:26.6
2. Rose Kosgei Kirui 28:32.0
3. Sylvia Kibet 28:51.0
4. Fridah Demongole 28:52.3
5. Ogia Kimaiyo 29:01.2
6. Edith Chelimo 29:07.0
7. Naomi Jepkogei 29:17.6
8. Esther Chemutai 29:28.9
9. Agnes Chebet 29:33.9
10. Jane Mwikali 29:52.2
JUNIOR MEN 8km -
1. Isaiah Kiplagat 24:35.0
2. Japheth Korir 25:01.8
3. Charles Kimeli 25:05.6
4. Daniel Maru 25:08.2
5. Gilbert Kirui 25:11.7
6. Albert Yator 25:14.5
7. Paul Lonyangata 25:22.3
8. Abraham Kasongor 25:27.9
9. James Gitahi 25:28.7
10. Japheth Kiprop 25:30.4
JUNIOR WOMEN 6km -
1. Faith Chepng’etich 21:07.0
2. Janet Kisia 21:17.7
3. Naomi Chepng’eno 21:22.8
4. Jackline Chepng’eno 21:46.6
5. Jepkorir Kipkoech 21:50.4
6. Chepchirchir Cheruiyot 21:52.9
7. Nancy Chepkwemoi 21:57.1
8. Gladys Chesire 22:02.7
9. Viola Jepchirchir 22:03.9
10. Rufine Chepng’etich 22:15.7
2006 Evergreen Mutola