Mercy Cherono on the way to victory in Kericho (Mworia Githinji / Ginadin Communications) © Copyright
Amazingly, the intensely competitive second Kenya Commercial Bank (KCB)/AK National Cross Country Series meeting in Kipkelion, Kericho County on Saturday (13) was dominated by two households as Mercy Cherono and little sister Caroline Chepkoech owned the women’s senior 8km and junior 6km races.
The men’s junior race was won by Nicholas Togom, a younger brother to Mombasa and Edinburgh World Cross competitor, Matthew Kisorio while World junior 5000m silver winner, John Kipkoech, snapped the unfolding family theme by taking the 12km long race top honours.
Senior men 12km
The Armed Forces team sent a battalion of experienced runners to Kipkelion but it was a fresh conscript who ensured the busload of military athletes returned back to barracks in full song.
Soon after running 13:26.03 for silver at the World Juniors in Moncton, Canada, John Kipkoech was recruited by the Army and in a tough course at Momoniat Primary and Secondary School grounds he repaid the faith shown in his abilities.
It took all ethos espoused in a soldier for Chepkwony, who ran 38:02.0 to breast the tape ahead of 104 other starters in the men’s long race whose start was delayed for minutes heightening the tension after some running numbers were duplicated.
After runners disaffected by the confusion dissipated the nervousness by jogging up and about a few metres from the starting area as officials sorted out the bibs mess, the race took off at high noon local time in hot but windy conditions.
Coupled with a curvy course with tall thick grass, it did not take long for the wheat to be separated from chaff as a leading group of 12 first came for the first lap with Kipkoech as well as 11th finisher, junior race at Bydgoszcz World Cross, Charles Kibet, in the thick of it.
A lap later, this was reduced to eight with Kibet surging ahead carrying Kipkoech with him. A few metres behind, Peter Koech had eased to third a few paces ahead of Henry Chirchir, Bernard Rotich, Philip Langat and David Langat.
As they came for the final 2km loop, the front pair broke away with Kibet still in the lead but Kipkoech was breathing down his neck. They Bydgoszcz campaigner tried to surge at an incline a kilometre to the finish but the Moncton silver winner refused to break.
At this point, the sizeable crowd realised a huge tussle for the tape was on the cards and those sat rose as others moved closer to the finish.
They were right. With 500m to go, Kipkoech shifted a higher gear and passed Kibet. The lead then changed hands on three occasions before one last heave from Chepkwony finally broke his rival for a 38:02.0 against 38:05.2.
“I’m very happy my first senior race in cross country has returned victory. What happened here with Kibet means I have to train very hard to make the Kenya team. The tall grass made it hard for us but it was a great race,” Kipkoech said moments after receiving a bear hug from Sydney Olympics 1500m champion, Noah Ngeny, who is one of the chief scouts for Armed Forces.
“My shoes were very tight and in the end, it became painful to run with them. I believe I was the best out there and I will prove it soon but it did not happen though I’m happy being in my first senior race in cross country,” Kibet said.
His reward for the performance, a contract with Volker Wagner who manages among others, World Half bronze winner, Sammy Kitwara, to be his representative.
Koech (38:25.4) did enough to secure third as a charging Wilson Too, a half marathoner and pace maker for the Tiberius Marathon stormed from outside the top ten at the bell to take fourth in 38:31.0.
Senior women 8km and 6km women races
Mercy Cherono, the twice 3000m World Junior champion (2008 and 2010) as well as World Cross silver (2009) and gold (2010) winner is already acclaimed as one of the most exciting female distance runners to watch.
Charity begins at home they say and therefore, her Kipkelion turf was the most apt place to make her senior debut in Cross Country running even though it meant breaking from her end year Form 3 (third year) exams.
“I love running in front of my home crowd since the support they give me is very motivating,” Cherono said as she donned her running kit for the start. There was no doubt she was the meet’s star, with a rousing cheer greeting her.
Among the passengers in Cherono’s car was a standard seven pupil at Arsha Kibori Primary School, Caroline Chepkoech, her younger sister.
The Africa Youth Championships bronze winner over 3000m acted the perfect curtain raising act for her more illustrious sibling when she ground out victory in the first event of the day in 22:10.3, starving off the attentions of determined Emmy Too (22:14.5) who until the last 400m, had stubbornly refused to bow to the winner.
“I want to follow in my sisters’ footsteps, that is why I chose to run from the front. Now she is leaving junior and I want to step into the space she has vacated if all goes to plan,” said Chepkoech, who had to be assisted by medics after the race.
Amid cheers, her sister took to the women’s senior race but unlike what she is accustomed to, another graduate, World junior 3000m steeple champion, Purity Cherotich, literally pushed her all the way to the tape, with the runner-up bumping on the winner at the finish where both fell.
It was a tight contest, one that Cherono summoned all the gas in her deep tank to ensure the applauding crowd went home happy as she sealed 30:02.6 win over the bridesmaid’s 30:03.8.
“I had not trained before coming here, Purity was in better shape but there is something about running here that inspires me to perform. It’s not going to be easy at the senior level and I intend to step-up training when we close school to get into shape,” she said.
Her sister, Chepkoech ran over to her and both embraced. “I’m grateful to God she is coming up like this. At least, there is someone to take after me.”
Junior men 8km race
The late Some Muge, Kenya’s first ever World Cross individual medallist with bronze in 1983 (senior) must be a proud father in the afterlife after his third son, Nicholas Togom, announced his arrival to the sport he cherished with the most dominant triumph on the day.
Elder son Matthew Kisorio has already established himself as a fine road racer, winning October’s Rock n’ Roll Half Marathon with a brisk 1:00:15 to add to his experiences at Mombasa, Edinburgh (both junior) and Amman (senior) World Cross Country Championships. Peter Kimeli, another of Some’s offspring is also a reputed distance runner who was seventh (junior) at the Edinburgh World Cross.
Togom secured his 24:53.0 victory by haring away from a field that featured 147 starters, the most populated race from the gun and steadily went on to build a significant lead by the time they came for the final lap.
He eased off and Isaac Langat, who fronted the challenger’s queue briefly threatening to claw back the gap but he ran out of steam at the homestretch, coming home in 25:02.1.
“My brothers are now concentrating on road races,” the Kimogoch Secondary School student said adding, “I want to take up track and cross country that they have left.”
None of the top six finishers from the opening meet in Tala, Kangundo (6 November) who earned points for a share of Ksh1million ($12,500) series jackpot featured in Kipkelion meaning that 24 athletes are now in contention. The series now moves to Kapsakwony, Mount Elgon next Saturday 20 November.
Mutwiri Mutuota (The Standard) for IAAF
12KM SENIOR MEN
1. John Kipkoech 38:02.0
2. Charles Kibet 38:05.2
3. Peter Koech 38:25.4
4. Wilson Too 38:31.0
5. Henry Chirchir 38:34.0
6. Bernard Rotich 38:36.3
7. Philip Langat 38:44.1
8. David Langat 38:57.7
9. Wesley Ngeno 38:58.8
10. Frankline Tere 39:00.5
8KM SENIOR WOMEN
1. Mercy Cherono 30:02.6
2. Purity Cherotich 30:03.8
3. Mercy Chelagat 30:11.2
4. Caroline Kirui 30:40.1
5. Pamela Cherotich 30:49.1
6. Fancy Cherotich 30:57.6
7. Joyline Chelagat 31:13.3
8. Sammary Cherotich 31:27.5
9. Zipporah Chebet 31:33.5
10. Beryl Nenkamps 32:22.2
8KM JUNIOR MEN
1. Nicholas Togom 24:53.0
2. Isaac Langat 25:02.1
3. Japheth Korir 25:23.3
4. Ernest Ngeno 25:24.3
5. Isaac Koech 25:30.5
6. Vincent Rono 25:31.1
7. Mike Rotich 25:35.3
8. Raphael Oleket 25:46.1
9. Kiprotich Mutai 25:48.8
10. Bernard Kiplagat 25:54.0
6KM JUNIOR WOMEN
1. Caroline Chepkoech 22:10.3
2. Emmy Cheptoo 22:14.5
3. Irene Chepkorir 22:16.5
4. Jessica Chepng’eno 22:34.8
5. Jackline Chebii 22:42.3
6. Vicoty Chepng’eno 23:03.0
7. Joyline Chepng’eno 23:07.5
8. Emmy Cheptoo 23:08.2
9. Damaris Chebet 23:27.1
10. Roobur Chepng’etich 23:28.1