Fresh recruits, Geoffrey Mutai and Pauline Njeri bunched together in ‘Team Vigilance’ outclassed seasoned officers at Saturday’s (15) Kenya Police Inter-Divisional Cross Country Championships.
Mutai and Njeri cuffed the competition in the men (12km) and women (8km) long races in contrasting fashion where the former blew apart a classy field as the latter edged a last-lap cliff hanger against New York Marathon champion, Edna Kiplagat.
Mutai, the Rotterdam (2:04:55) and Berlin (2:05:10) marathon bridesmaid, duplicated his winning performance from last week at the closing KCB/AK National Cross Country Series meeting in Iten (8 Saturday) despite the fact he was facing a more superior field.
New Commonwealth and African steeplechase champion, Richard Mateelong and World 10,000m bronze winner, Moses Masai sat this race out with knee knocks sustained broke before the start.
World Half bronze winner, Sammy Kitwara, a winner here in 2008, African 5000m silver medallist, Vincent Yator (second last year), 2008 World Cross bronze holder (junior), Lucas Rotich, Levy Matebo (tenth Edinburgh, junior), Josphat Bett and Titus Mbishei who completed the World Junior 10,000m 1-2 in 2008 were amongst tips for top honours.
Steeplechase Diamond League winner, Paul Kipsiele Koech and Isaac Songok, who took silver at the defunct 4km short race at the 2006 Fukuoka World Cross also lined-up for the gun.
Kenya’s Commissioner of Police, Matthew Iteere, fired for the start and a frenetic opening witnessed Kitwara (58:58 PB, half marathon, 27:11 PB 10km), lead the runners through the opening two-laps (4km).
Philemon Rono (runner-up Iten), Mbishei, Yator, Matebo, Gideon Ngatuny (4th Mombasa and 7th Edinburgh), Philemon Kimeli, Rotich and Mutai were among those in the tight lead pack. Kipsiele and Songok were further down the field.
First Ngatuny (5km), then Kitwara (6km) dropped out of the reckoning to leave Mutai, Mbishei, Matebo, Kimeli, Rono and Yator to chase the title.
With a kilometre to the bell, Mutai, who looked stronger as the race progressed, began pulling away from Rotich who had eased to second with Rono in third.
At the signal for the final two-kilometres, Mutai had made a gap of some 50m from Rotich who had Rono breathing in his shoulder. This increased to 80m then 100m by the time Mutai took victory in 37:26.0.
“The competition was tough and I’m happy to win here,” the winner graciously offered. “I will consider competing for selection in the World Cross team at the Trials only if I get assurances from Athletics Kenya (AK) I will be allowed to train at my camp,” he added.
“The practise of taking us to AK residential camps for long ahead of major championships is one of the reasons that makes international runners opt not to compete for Kenya since it forces us to change our training programmes and conditions,” the African 10000m bronze winner charged.
Rono (31:57.6), who won the junior 8km race at the fifth leg of KCB/AK National Cross series in Kisii (4 December), clipped Rotich (37:55.0) in the race for second with Kimeli (37:59.6), Mbishei (38:12.4) and Bett (38:18.0) closing the top six.
Mateelong is targeting a return for the nationals with Masai revealing he would skip the World Cross selection event to focus on getting fit for Daegu Worlds.
With last year’s top-two, World champions, Vivian Cheruiyot (5000m) and Linet Masai (10,000m), taking their rivalry across the seas to Seville, the women’s race was shorn of glamour but not the excitement.
“We allowed them to compete in Spain since international build-up is as important as what we have here. Their performances and consistency will determine whether they make the team,” Nicholas Kilisio, head coach at Police explained.
2008 World Junior 1500m gold medallist, Irene Jelagat, bravely hit the front at the start and took a group of eight runners through the half way mark in the lead as the field became clustered in batches.
Njeri, Kiplagat, Monica Wangari, Ann Karindi (sixth Bydgoszcz, senior), Fridah Demongole, Edith Chelimo and Jane Wanjiku coalesced around the pacesetter.
A kilometre later, the group swallowed Jelagat as Njeri took over with the Big Apple marathon titleholder in tow.
At the bell, Njeri, 24, who came onto the radar with victories at the opening (Tala) and fourth (Embu) KCB/AK series meets, was a pace ahead of her key challenger.
They then treated the crowd to tense moments with 800m to go when Kiplagat attempted to pass Njeri only to be rebuffed. 300m later, the marathoner edged in front only for the eventual winner to sidestep her more illustrious rival and break away for the tape, arriving in 29:01.2 against Kiplagat’s 29:03.2.
“I’m so happy to win here,” the winner exuded after receiving a congratulatory hug from the vanquished adding, “My long run training in Ngong has paid fruits this time in addition to the support I receive from my husband.”
Njeri is the spouse of half marathoner Willy Mwangi (60:07 PB) who was fifth at last year’s Zayed International race in Abu Dhabi.
“After returning from maternity leave (blessed with daughter Janet Wanjiku, November 2009), I’m feeling great and I believe I can make the World Cross team.”
Kiplagat disclosed, “My main focus is the marathon at Daegu Worlds and my performance here today was encouraging since I just began training. Then I can think about my New York title defence after that.”
Wangari (29:25.6), Chelimo (29:30.0), Karindi (29:35.2) and Wanjiku (29:37.3) sealed the top six.
Following the event, 24 runners were selected to join the Kenya Police training camp ahead of the IAAF Permit/AK National Cross Country Championships on 19 February. Coach Kilisio disclosed the final squad for the unit would be unveiled from 12 February.
Next weekend, the Armed Forces will hold their championships (22 January) with Districts and Provinces holding theirs on 29 January alongside Kenya Prisons with Administration Police and all Provinces to complete selection on 5 February.
Mutwiri Mutuota (The Standard) for the IAAF
1. Geoffrey Mutai (Vigilance) 37:26.0
2. Philemon Rono (Vigilance) 37:51.6
3. Lucas Rotich (Kapu) 37:55.0
4. Philemon Kimeli (Eastern) 37:59.6
5. Titus Mbishei (CID) 38:12.4
6. Josphat Bett (Central) 38:18.0
7. Vincent Yator (Kapu) 38:20.4
8. Alex Macharia (Eastern) 38:23.8
9. Sammy Kitwara (GSU) 38:30.0
10. Wilson Kipsang (Nyanza) 38:43.3
1. Pauline Njeri (Vigilance) 29:01.2
2. Edna Kiplagat (Nyanza) 29:03.2
3. Monica Wangari (Nairobi) 29:25.6
4. Edith Chelimo (Vigilance) 29:30.0
5. Ann Karindi (Vigilance) 29:35.2
6. Jane Wanjiku (Traffic) 29:37.3
7. Irene Jelagat (PEU) 29:38.0
8. Fridah Demongole (CID) 29:38.0
9. Beatrice Chepchumba (KAPU) 29:56.6
10. Hellen Musembi 30:09.1