Nairobi, KenyaAfter a long dry spell, the heavens finally opened in Nairobi on Saturday as if celebrating the return of a King as five times World Cross Country champion Paul Tergat made a comeback 11 years after shifting his attention to the road with a fine run at the Kenya Armed Forces Cross Country Championships at the Kahawa Garrison in Nairobi.
The Armed Forces Championships come after the completion of the six-meet Athletics Kenya National Cross Country Series in Eldoret a week ago.
Tergat, also a one-time World Marathon record holder (2:04:55), stole the show from the day’s winners Vincent Kiprop and Lynet Chepkurui under a heavy downpour that made the Kahawa Garrison course muddy and quite difficult to navigate.
Are we seeing the return of the legend? Not quite, Tergat said after finishing 17th overall (39:56.00), running in the Moi Air Base colours, observing that he was simply out to only boost his team’s chances of winning the Armed Forces title.
Since Tergat’s last global Cross Country triumph in Belfast in 1999, the title has been shared by Belgian Mohammed Mourhit, Ethiopia’s six times champion Kenenisa Bekele and Eritrea’s Zersenay Tadese.
“It is true that Kenya has never won the senior men’s title ever since I left,” said Tergat who won the senior men’s race five times in a row from 1995 to 1999. “But I’m here just to support my team, the Moi Air Base, to stay ahead of the competition.”
“Our runners have improved a great deal since I left. But it has been hard considering the competition from Ethiopia and Eritrea,” Tergat added. “But I have total belief in these young athletes. They are serious and I will not be surprised if they reclaim the individual title.”
Tergat: ‘The competition is now faster than before’
But Tergat said he would do a few more races and step up his training regime before deciding whether or not to make the big announcement of his comeback.
“I did not expect a muddy course. It is terrible for me. I need to polish up my skills in this competition and I need to gauge myself. The competition is now faster than before and one has to be at his level best.”
Kiprop, running for home team Kahawa Garrison, outlasted the competition in the race to win in 38:49.07 with Nanyuki’s Barnabas Koskei (38:52.04) and Moi Air Base’s William Chebon (38:54.00) completing the podium places.
Fresh recruit Kiprop has just completed his compulsory military training which held him in good stead.
He was with Tergat in the second pack from the outset with the muddy course frustrating the leading pack that included Kiplimo Chumba, Kiprono Menjo and Barnabas Kosgei.
The lead kept on changing hands and at the 6km mark, Kosgei broke off with Kiprop, Chebon and Meshak Kipsang in hot pursuit before Kiprop recovered to snatch the lead when it mattered most, in the final lap, with a sprint finish that left Kosgei gasping in his wake.
“It was a very tough race for me,” the winner said. “I have not raced in such conditions before and I just held up hoping to be among the top 10, but in the final lap, I realised the others had dropped further and I made my last effort,” said Kiprop.
“It (next month’s national Cross Country championships) will be equally difficult but I believe I can steal the show. I want to make it to the team to (the World Cross Country Championships) Amman,” he said.
Easy time for Chepkurui – women’s race
In the women’s race, Moi Air Base runner Chepkurui had the better of strong challengers Penina Arusei (Thika) and Sally Barsosio (Nairobi Garrison) to win in 29:10.6.
“They never showed any challenge. I have been struggling with a hamstring injury. But I can now relax and focus on my training because it is completely healed,” she said.
Arusei settled for second (29:41.3) while Barsosio was third (29:50.2).
There was also a 21km race run ahead of the Cross Country championships with Japan-based Philes Ongori winning the women’s race in 1:10.23 and the men’s title going to Geoffrey Giikuni (1:01:01).
Elias Makori for IAAF
Women’s 8km: 1. Linet Chepkurui 29:10.6, 2. Penina Arusei 29:41.3, 3. Sally Barsosio 29:50.2, 4. Ines Chenonges 29:54.5, 5. Irine Lemika 30:30.2, 6. Angeline Mutheu 30:59.2, 7. Mercy Kiptoo 31:14.7, 8. Catherine Kwamboka 31:26.5, 9. Nancy Chebet 31:39.0, 10. Jackline Chirchir 31:46.0.
Men’s 12km: 1. Vincent Kiprop 38:49.7, 2. Barnabas Kosgei 38:52.4, 3. William Chebon 38:54.0, 4. Meshack Kipsang 38:56.7, 5. Linus Chumba 39:17.8, 6. Patrick Ndthiwa 39:22.0, 7. Mark Kiptoo 39:30.0, 8. Mike Tiony 39:34.7, 9. Kiprono Menjo 39:44.7, 10. Samuel Kimaiyo 39:46.1, .. 17. Paul Tergat 39:56.00.
21km women: 1. Philes Ongori 1:10:23, 2. Helen Mugo 1:13.59, 3. Esther Wanjiku 1:16.43, 4. Leah Kusar 1:18.21, 5. Lydia Wanjau 1:19.55, 6. Betty Wanjiru 1:19.56, 7. Joyce Wangui 1:20.20, 8. Ganwin Muzaki 1:21.19, 9. Ruth Kalunda 1:22.24, 10. Purity Jepkemoi 1:23.42.
21km men: 1. Geoffrey Giikuni 1:01.01, 2. Mark Macharia 1:01.43, 3. Anthony Wambugu 1:01.54, 4. Duncan Kiptanui 1:02.02, 5. Philip Yego 1:02.12, 6. Francis Maundu 1:02.25, 7. Nixon Kibet 1:02.27, 8. Sammy Karanja 1:02.28, 9. Jon Maina 1:02.45, 10. Daniel Muruiki 1:02.52.