They both struck gold on the memorable blue track at last year’s World Championships in Berlin. And on Saturday (23), Linet Masai and Vivian Cheruiyot dazzled their home fans with a fine display of cross country running that did not disappoint the crowd at Saturday’s Kenya Police Cross Country Championships run on the lush green and well-manicured Ngong racecourse circuit.
Classy fields in both the men’s and women’s races quenched the pre-race thirst as World 10,000m champion Masai’s cross country winning streak was brought to an abrupt end by World 5000m gold medallist Cheruiyot.
A week after she blew the opposition to smithereens at the Cross Internacional de Italica in Seville, Masai, running for the General Service Unit was always going to be the pre-race favourite, also considering her silver medal at last year’s World Cross Country Championships in Amman.
But it was Vivian Cheruiyot’s day as the diminutive World 5000m gold medallist ran a blistering final lap to upset Masai and bag her second title at the annual police championships.
Cheruiyot aims at Doha rather than Bydgoszcz
Sadly, the comfortable-looking Cheruiyot said she harbours no interest in the 38th IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland (28 March), preferring to compete indoors instead.
The women’s 8km race was by far the more exciting of the day’s two races with the new Kenya Police commissioner, Mathew Iteere, and Kenya’s head of the Criminal Investigations Department (CID), Gatiba Karanja, the chief guests along with IAAF Council Member, Isaiah Kiplagat.
And they were not disappointed as a pack of 15 held on in the first two-kilometre lap around the soft race-track, the group reducing to 10 after four kilometres.
It was at the five-kilometre mark that the stars made their move, Masai, Cheruiyot and Grace Momanyi, the latter a champion here two years ago, breaking away from fourth placed Edna Kiplagat with the three neck-and-neck after six kilometres.
Then came Cheruiyot’s clincher with about 800 metres to go, the runner from the CID gathering a final burst of useful energy to cruise past Masai to the tape in 28 minutes and 28 seconds.
Masai settled for silver seven seconds behind the winner and Momanyi, fourth in the 10,000m on the track in Berlin, completing the podium places for the Railway Police Unit team 11 seconds adrift of Cheruiyot.
“I’m quite happy because it’s my second victory at the police championships and I’m impressed by my form at the start of the season. However, I will not be running in Poland but I’m preparing for the indoor season instead,” Cheruiyot said.
“I’m preparing for the indoor championships in Birmingham (20 February) and I hope to be selected in the Kenyan team to the 13th IAAF World Indoor Championships, Doha, Qatar (12 - 14 March) where I want to run the 3000m.”
Masai was graceful in defeat: “I now want to move to Iten to prepare for the national championships and trials for the World Championships.”
Masai might have, perhaps, been psychologically affected by the absence of her training partner and brother, Moses Masai, who is recovering from a bout of malaria that knocked him out of Saturday’s championships.
MEN’s race - Kirui wins; Wanjiru returns from two month injury layoff
But the men’s field was not devoid of top class stars with steeplechasers Richard Mateelong and Paul Kipsiele Koech spicing up the action alongside Olympic marathon champion Samuel Wanjiru who launched his preparations for April’s London Marathon at the Ngong Racecourse.
However, it was another marathon specialist, Joseph Kirui, who carried the day with a brave show of front-running from the second half of the race that saw him emerge victorious in 37:41.
Kirui ran a tactical race, sizing up the opposition in the first half as usual suspects Gideon Ngatuny, a champion here in 2007 and Sammy Kitwara throwing down the gauntlet.
Philemon Kimeli and Vincent Yator then took up the challenge at five kilometres before Kirui burst to the front, Yator going with him.
And with about 200 metres to go, Kirui, running for the day’s overall champions, the CID team, took off, Yator failing to respond and settling for second for the Kenya Airport Police Unit in 37:43.
“It was a tough race but I’m happy I won and I’m sure this is my year,” Kirui, 10th at the national trials here last year said.
“I hope this time round I will make the team to the World championships,” said the 2:07 marathoner who has clocked a PB of 59:30 in the half marathon.
A fine run by Beijing Olympics 3000m Steeplechase bronze medallist, Richard Mateelong, handed him an impressive fourth with Wanjiru’s first phase of preparations for April’s London Marathon placing him 39th in 40:32.
“I had an injury as a result of which I did not train the whole of last November and December,” said Wanjiru, who has put on a few kilos and who will be defending his title in London.
“But I’m back now and my ultimate dream is to shatter Haile Gebrselassie’s World marathon record in Berlin this September. This is my year.”
Wanjiru, in CID colours Saturday, will run in the Lisbon Half Marathon (March 21) before travelling to London.
The top six men and women in Saturday’s races were named in the strong Kenya Police team that will be fielded at the February 20 National Championships that will also pick Kenya’s team to Poland.
Moses Masai and reigning women's World XC champion, Florence Kiplagat, are also in the team despite missing out Saturday. Kiplagat is recovering from a long-standing injury.
Elias Makori for IAAF
1. Joseph Kirui (CID) 37:41, 2. Vincent Yator (KAPU) 37:43, 3. Philemon Kimeli (Eastern) 37:51, 4. Richard Mateelong (KPC) 38:08, 5. Joel Kimelel (Dog Unit) 38:09, 6. Benard Kipyego (Nyanza) 38:15, 7. John Thuo (HQs) 38:18, 8. Sammy Kitwara (GSU) 38:27, 9. Silas Kipruto (Coast) 38:34, 10. Titus Mbishei (CID) 38:39.
1. Vivian Cheruiyot (CID) 28:28, 2. Linet Masai (GSU) 28:34, 3. Grace Momanyi (Railways) 28:39, 4. Edna Kiplagat (Nyanza) 28:54, 5. Margaret Wangare (Coast) 29:02, 6. Pamela Lisoreng (Individual) 29:32, 7. Ann Cheptanui (KAPU) 29:33, 8. Lydia Rotich (Traffic) 29:36, 9. Pascalia Chelangat (Traffic) 29:43, 10. Monica Wangare (Dog Unit) 29:50.