Kenya's National Cross Country
From OMULO OKOTH in Nairobi
Paul Koech and Jackline Maranga proved once again that they are the best Cross Country runners on Kenyas soil as they triumphed in the Kenya National Championships in Nairobi on 21 February.Koech won the 12-kilometer senior mens race in 35:56.60. Maranga, with an impressive performance in the IAAF Cross Challenge series, won the eight-kilometre senior womens event in 27:57.00.
Richard Limo dashed to victory in the eight-kilometre junior mens race (24:12.52) as Agnes Kiprop became the national six-kilometre junior women champion, timed at 20:51.00.
Complying with the IAAF newly-introduced races, Kenyan athletics chiefs also staged four-kilometre senior races which were won by John Kosgei (11:58.00 and Gladys Agui (14:31.00).
Staged against the backdrop of scenic Ngong Racecourse in the outskirts of capital city of Nairobi, the national championships were a huge success, if only for the large number of entries by Kenyas world renowned jet-set star athletes.
As the crowd milled around the racecourse, craning their necks in a bid to catch glimpses of the world beaters, one could notice the presence of stars like Douglas Wakiihuri, Cosmas Ndeti, Bernard Barmasai and Lukas Sang who did not come to run but to mingle with their fellow athletes.
A very familiar scene was the large presence of athletic representatives, ready to predate Kenyas new talent. Prominent among them were Briton, John Bicourt, and the Italian, Dr Gabriele Rosa. Not to be left behind was Sunishi Kobayashi, from Japan, accompanied by his son.
It was a perfect setting for starting preparations for the "World Cross" due in Marrakech, Morocco on March 21 and 22. Kenya has dominated the overall team title since Neuchatel in 1986 when "King John" Ngugi set an unbeaten five-time victory in the senior mens category.
Moroccan and Ethiopian athletes have proffered the biggest challenge to the Kenyans, especially in the womens event.
With the event being held in Morocco this time, Kenyans have an uphill task to retain the overall team title for a record 13th consecutive year. But when asked what they thought about the matter, they kind of brushed it aside.
Paul Tergat who lost to Koech in a tense battle acknowledges the home athletes will have an advantage as they are familiar with the course, but he insists he will go for a fourth title in the mens event.
"I have won on many courses I was not familiar with. I do not see why I should not win in Morocco. I am not dismissing the Moroccans but I am certain about defending my title successfully," Tergat, a sergeant in Kenya Airforce, said.
Koech left everything in the hands of God. "Whatever God has planned for one can never be avoided. If He has planned that I will win, I will." Koech, a Kenya Army lieutenant, said.
Tergat lost to Koech in the Armed Forces championships on January 30 in almost identical fashion. The Nairobi crowd expected a titanic battle between the two at the national championships.
But this time Tergat appeared to have lost hope at the eight-kilometre mark when he stopped chasing the indefatigable Koech. Koech who won by some 70 metres. Christopher Kelong and world outdoor 5,000 metre bronze medallist, Tom Nyariki, who were hot on the leaders heels drifted to sixth and fifth places respectively.
The Kenyan well of athletic talent brought forth another new face in Richard Cheruiyot who was third in the 12-kilometre event. World 3,000 metre steeple chase champion, Wilson Boit Kipketer, put up a brave fight, finishing seventh as former 10,000 metre champion-turned-marathoner Moses Tanui followed in ninth position.
Simon Chemoywo and former two-time world 5,000 metre champion, Ismael Kirui, were struggling from the start and were lucky to end up in 16th and 17th positions respectively.
Maranga stayed up with the front runners until the home stretch when she sprinted to victory with Jane Omoro in hot pursuit. Omoro was second. In third place was Lydia Cheromei-Kogo who was almost knocked out for technical reasons.
Her name was omitted from the computer result print-outs but her day was saved thanks to some sharp-eyed athletics journalists who confronted the officials demanding an explanation which, as expected, they attributed to a "minor" technical problem.
World outdoor 10,000 metre champion, Sally Barsosio, a civilian working in the Armed Forces, was beaten to fifth place, a performance she attributed to jet lag and altitude as she had returned to Kenya from Europe just that week. Naomi Mugo was fourth.
Rose Cheruiyot who won the overall IAAF Cross Challenge title in 1996 watched the event from the terraces. Having married Ismael Kirui recently, she has taken a break from her hectic athletic career to make a home first.Cheromei who also recently married an athlete, Hosea Kogo, is also likely to take a break soon. Pauline Konga and Paul Bitok exchanged vows shortly before Atlanta Olympics where they both won silver medals in 5,000 metres and have not run since.
Paul Kosgei who came third in the junior mens event in Turin, Italy, last year finished the four-kilometre senior mens event in second place. Rose Kosgei who won the world junior event last year took third position in the senior womens four-kilometre event.
Rose was dropped by Rift Valley provincial team after finishing in 37th place at the trials. She was picked by Moses Tanuis Great Rift Valley sports club and didn't disappoint them.