by Phil Minshull
Kenyas Jacqueline Maranga was best known before this winter as having the unique accolade of having won medals at three successive world junior championships. Silver medals at the 1992 and 1996 championships over 1,500m were interspersed with an 800m medal of a similar hue in 1994. However since turning 20 in December she has shown her prowess in the senior ranks, and over longer distances, on the IAAF Cross Challenge circuit.
Husband Tom Nyariki, the 1997 world cross country bronze medallist whom she wed early last year, can take much of the credit for turning her from an outstanding junior athlete into one of the favourites for a world cross country title.
Despite setting a Kenyan 1,500m record of 4:02.35 last August in Monte Carlo, Nyariki spotted that she also had tremendous stamina as well as speed. "Tom came back from Kenya a few months ago and said, My wife has been training with me and shes in good shape. He asked whether we could find her some cross country races," said Duncan Gaskill, who works with their London-based agent Kim McDonald. "We were a bit surprised but took him at his word and found her a race in France."
She won that outing and the three that followed. However Maranga, like many Kenyan athletes, is prone to recurrent bouts of malaria. On a brief trip back to Kenyan in December she contracted the debilitating disease and failed to do herself justice at the first two rounds of the Cross Challenge in Brussels and Durham.
Since then though, she has been unstoppable and won with a sprint finish in both Amorebieta and Seville. "All winter my objective has been to do well on the World Cross Challenge circuit - its the pinnacle of the sport. I have even turned down races where there is the possibility of earning more money to race in the series," said the quietly spoken runner.
Maranga now expects to race twice more before making her bid to become only the second Kenyan women after Helen Chepngeno to win the world cross country senior title. However European athletics fans will just have to savour the memory of her Spanish feats as she is likely to stay in Africa for several months. She intends to race in the Kenyan trials followed a week later by an outing at the Mombasa Cross Challenge meeting on February 28 before making her way to Marrakesh.