After the Ethiopian sweep of the three individual titles on the first day of the 31st IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Lausanne-La Broye, some Kenyan pride was restored today with a blistering sprint finish win for Eliud Kipchoge in the men’s junior race.
Kipchoge’s victory in the 7900 metres race was simplicity itself, as with the exception of the two brief moments when his compatriots Solomon Bushendich and Augustine Choge respectively put their vests in front of him, he led all the way from starting pen to the finishing line.
That is not to say this was an easy win, far from it. Throughout the race Kipchoge was closely shadowed by Uganda’s Boniface Kiprop, the bronze medallist from last year and the outstanding pre-race favourite, having run so impressively as a guest in the senior long course race at the Ethiopian Championships at the beginning of this month.
An opening kilometre of 2:39 was nearly identically matched by a last one of 2:38, as Kipchoge dictated and sustained a relentless and ultimately devastating pace to secure gold, so breaking the Ethiopian grip established by Kenenisa Bekele and Gebre Gebremariam in the last two years.
With the exception of Kiprop, the race was essentially a duel between the massed ranks of the Ethiopian and Kenyan squads, who, until bell lap was sounded surrounded the Ugandan in a shield of green and red vests, surely in a conscious effort to keep control of this talented runner who was gate crashing their annual running party.
The initial leading pack of twelve runners - Kiprop plus the Kenyan and Ethiopian teams - which circled largely without change for the first 3 full sized laps of 1705m (+ 420m starting straight and mini lap 680m), had with one full length circuit still to go been broken down to seven athletes - Kipchoge, Kiprop, Choge, Bushendich, and the Ethiopians Girma Assefa, Getachew Dinku, and Tessema Absher.
As the bell sounded Kipchoge began pushing every ounce of energy into dropping as many of this pack as possible before the final sprint. In the course of this upsurge in pace the group quickly whittled down to just Kipchoge, Kiprop, Assefa and Bushendich, though Choge was not far behind this quartet.
500 metres from the finish, the pace quickened even more, and suddenly Kipchoge found Kiprop alongside and the sprint to the finish was underway in dramatic fashion.
The two runners might well have been blasting out of the blocks in a sprint race, such was the surge of speed that we witnessed.
Possibly the individual humiliation that the Kenyans had suffered at the hands of Ethiopia yesterday, gave Kipchoge the extra drive to take the win and restore some national pride. Yet whatever was the decisive factor, as they turned into the finishing straight it was the Kenyan who re-took the lead, and in the last 150 metres pulled away to the finish line.
The gold was Kenya’s in a time of 22:47, with Kiprop taking silver a few metres adrift (22:49), and Bushendich the next home (22:51), completing the podium.
In terms of the team title it was also Kenyan gold, as Choge (4th 22:55) backed up by a more distant Moses Mosop (23:17) in seventh, secured the final team places for gold (15 points), with Ethiopia (28 points) and Uganda (48 points) in bronze.
This race was an African party at it’s height, with Russia’s European champion Yevgeny Rybakov (23rd - 24:39) and William Nelson of USA (26th 24:52) being the first non-Africans to finish.