Nairobi, KenyaThe Boston and New York Marathons title and course record holder, Geoffrey Mutai, repeated as men’s champion at the Kenya Police Inter-Divisional Cross Country Championships in Nairobi on Saturday (14), as Lucy Wangui Kabuu prepared for her marathon debut in Dubai by taking the women’s race.
Despite the absence of a slew of established Kenya Police stars including World Cross Country champion Vivian Cheruiyot and three-times World Cross silver winner Linet Masai, this year’s selection event at Ngong Racecourse paraded quality fields in both races.
The hot January weather and thick grass which the runners were subjected to did not slow the intensity of the winners who crafted crushing victories as they prepared for Olympic glory in London this summer.
Returning to action for the first time since blessing the New York course with a sparkling route best of 2:05:05 in November, Mutai, donning the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) team colours produced a polished 25 second victory over the returning Berlin World 10,000m bronze winner Moses Masai in the men’s 12km race.
Put simply, Mutai, 30, dislodged himself from the deep line-up at the 4km mark and forced all challengers to play follow the leader, crossing the line in 37:38.0, having saluted the main tribune before breasting the tape.
“I might have won here today but it was not easy as it looked. I feel I have a lot left to do to gain the shape I was in last year but this is a confident start for me if you consider the opposition,” the winner gushed after his emphatic win.
It was a mirror display of the commanding front running that won him all the plaudits in the marathons in Boston, where he clocked the jaw-dropping 2:03.02, and New York last year.
At the start, he was in a lead pack of eight who went through the first 2km loop that included Masai, the 2010 World Junior 10,000m silver winner, Titus Mbishei, Edinburgh World Cross Junior bronze winner, Lucas Rotich, 2010 World Junior champion, Josphat Bett, Edinburgh World Cross tenth finisher Levi Matebo, World Junior 10,000m titleholder, Denis, the younger Masai and Nairobi’s Paul Langat.
Mutai had Masai and Mbishei for company a kilometre later as the intense heat started claiming high profile victims such as steeplechase speedster Paul Kipsiele Koech, Africa and Commonwealth Steeplechase champ Richard Mateelong, twice World Cross medallist Isaac Songok, World Half silver winner, Sammy Kitwara, Africa 5000m bronze medallist Vincent Yator, and 2008 Africa bronze winner Bernard Kipyego among others.
As they approached the 4km mark, Mutai accelerated away from the podium challengers to open a comfortable 50m gap that went on increasing to the 150m chasm at the final curve where only the occasional gust of wind opposed him.
With victory assured, an intense battle for runner-up was developing behind as Masai and Mbishei who had shadow-boxed for most of the race came to view at the final bend.
Masai (Presidential Escort Unit), who finish fourth at Beijing Olympics and third in Berlin Worlds before injuries halted his career progression, managed to fish out a finishing kick that saw him romp home in 38:03.3 as Mbishei satisfied himself with sharing the rostrum in 38:07.3 to give CID the 1st and 3rd places.
“For now, I’m not sure about my year since I’m yet to receive confirmation whether I have been selected for the Olympics but I’m training to keep winning,” said Mutai. “For sure, I cannot aim to beat my (marathon) course records due to the pain I went through to achieve them and I urge those chasing them to prepare for punishment,” Mutai outlined.
“It just feels good to be back competing with the best, that is all I can say for now,” said Masai, who has endured almost two seasons on the sidelines.
“I still have to work on my finishing since today, that is what cost me at least second place and my aim is to be in a position to challenge for an Olympics place and first outing for Kenya as a senior,” Mbishei said.
Bett sealed fourth (38:36.0), Matebo a place behind (38:40.6) with Langat (38:41.5), Joseph Kiptum (38:42.5), Denis (38:58.5), Kipsiele (39:02.4) and Kitwara (39:04.0) sealing the top ten.
Thus far this season, Lucy Wangui Kabuu, the 2006 Commonwealth Games 10,000m title holder, has proved untouchable after going through three years of Achilles trouble. Victories at September's Great North Run, at the opening AK cross series meet in Tala and New Delhi Half Marathon, both in November, proved she was back.
Now bustling with fine form, “She does not want to train with fellow female runners,” Robert Kioni, a coach in her Nyahururu base revealed, Kabuu is keen to make up for lost time and before her family, husband Maina and daughter Angel, she once again covered herself in gold dust.
From the gun, Kabuu charged to the front with Bydgoszcz World Cross sixth finisher Margaret Muriuki sticking close like super glue as World marathon champion Edna Kiplagat maintained a pace alongside the front pair.
At the bell, Kabuu held a 20m advantage and a kilometre to the finish, she had extended it to 80m, then to a yawning 100m gap at the finish where she stopped the timer at 28:22.2 with Muriuki, who used her cross pedigree to buy space from Kiplagat, taking silver in 28:45.7 as the World titleholder capped a fine showing in 28:59.1 for bronze.
“I have decided to abandon track running since my Achilles cannot handle spikes and that is why I’m aiming for a performance in Dubai that will see me considered for the Olympics marathon team,” said Kabuu.
“It will be my debut over the distance but I’m putting my trust in God to give me the power to make an impression since competition will be tough,” confirmed Kabuu, with daughter Angel by her side, as her beaming spouse looked on.
With the London Olympics dominating the thoughts of most of the runners, Kiplagat, the 2010 New York winner who missed out on a title defence due to knee injury said she was fully recovered and raring to go for a test at April’s city marathon in the Olympic city.
“If selected, I promise my country nothing but the best and yes, I would like to make history in the country as the first holder of the Olympic and World marathon crowns. With the likes of (London champion), Mary Keitany and the girls we finished the 1-2-3 in Daegu still strong, this is the year Kenya should win a first marathon women gold,” Kiplagat expressed.
Consolata Jemutai claimed fourth (28:08.08) with last year’s national junior cross champion Janet Kisia who was ninth in Punta Umbria, coming fifth (29:16.5), as the All Africa Games 1500m titleholder, Irene Jelagat (29:59.3) occupied the last top-ten position.
Cheruiyot was excused from the competition to run in the IAAF Permit meet in Seville (Sunday) while Masai is away in America for specialised conditioning training. Another Police star recruit, Mercy Cherono was given a rest after her comprehensive victory at the Campaccio International Cross Country.
“There was no need to burn her out so early in the season, we need to take care of her talent,” Police head coach, Nicholas Kilisio, explained about Cherono’s absence.
Mutwiri Mutuota (Capital FM) for IAAF
1. Geoffrey Mutai (CID) 37:38.0
2. Moses Masai (PEU) 38:03.3
3. Titus Mbishei (CID) 38:07.3
4. Josephat Bett (Central) 38:36.0
5. Levy Matebo (Nairobi) 38:40.6
6. Paul Langat (Nairobi) 38:42.5
7. Joseph Kiptum (North Eastern) 38:42.5
8. Denis Masai (Dog Unit) 38:58.5
9. Paul Kipsiele 39:02.4
10. Sammy Kitwara (GSU) 39:04.4
1. Lucy Kabuu (Rift Valley) 28:22.2
2. Margaret Wangari (Coast) 28:45.7
3. Edna Kiplagat (Nyanza) 28:59.1
4. Consolata Jemutai (Nyanza) 29:08.8
5. Janet Kisia (Vigilance) 29:16.5
6. Fridah Demongole (CID) 29:19.8
7. Mary Wangari (Vigilance) 29:27.8
8. Esther Chemutai (Vigilance) 29:36.7
9. Anne Wanjiru (KAPU) 29:45.2
10. Irene Jelagat (Dog Unit) 29:59.3