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Nairobi, KenyaThree years ago, Paul Tanui had no serious interest in running and only took up the sport just to keep him busy while schooling in the western Kenya highlands of Kisii.
But Saturday (20), the 20-year-old displayed the composure of a veteran when he tore apart seasoned campaigners to win the senior men’s 12-kilometre title at the KCB/Athletics Kenya National Cross Country Championships on the new Uhuru Gardens course in Nairobi, also an IAAF Cross Country Permit meeting.
Overnight rains meant the course was always going to be difficult but there were no upsets in the senior women’s race which went according to script with World 10,000m champion Linet Masai winning convincingly despite running most of the race on one shoe after her right shoe was clipped off by one of the runners.
There was drama, however, in the junior women’s race where Mercy Cherono, the silver medallist in Amman last year, was beaten to fourth place in a race won by World Youth 1500m champion Nelly Chebet.
The junior men’s race result was also a bit surprising with upstart Charles Chebet leading the finishers as Athletics Kenya also picked the national squad for the 39th IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland, set for 28 March.
Florence Kiplagat, who won the world title in Amman last year, will not travel to the Polish city to defend her title as she has been struggling with injury and illness.
Senior men’s 12km race -
Watched by an impressive crowd of about 5000 at the new course that had slippery bends thanks to the overnight rains, the senior men’s race was tipped to be a battle between Armed Forces and Kenya Police runners.
But Tanui, who is based in Fukuoka, Japan, and who runs for the Kyedenko Electronic Company had other ideas.
The victory was made sweeter owing to the fact that two years ago on his running debut, he was dropped from Kenya’s junior men’s team for the simple reason that he couldn’t run in shoes!
He did make the team last year finishing fourth in Amman in the junior race after which Japan-based former Kenyan distance runner Stephen Mayaka took him to Fukuoka where he perfected the skill of running in shoes.
At Uhuru Gardens, he let pre-race favourite Mathew Kisorio, the World junior 5000m silver medallist, do most of the front-running.
“I was first not sure if I will win. But I was certain of making the team. So when we were half way and Kisorio was slowing down, I made the decision to up the pace and it worked,” Tanui said.
It was a well calculated move and at the halfway stage, Tanui was in charge. “It felt nice running. I knew the race had big boys but I realised as I was going around the bend that they had dropped off,” said Tanui who won in 35:12.5.
By the six-kilometre stage, Tanui had opened up a 150-metre gap from his closest rival Lucas Rotich as Joseph Ebuya, the man who beat Ethiopia’s multiple World champion Kenenisa Bekele at the Great Edinburgh cross country in January, tore through the group and appeared comfortable in the latter stages.
The lead group also included Hoseah Macharinyang, who last represented Kenya in 2007 and who is making a comeback after a long battle with an Achilles injury.
With the first four across the line earning an automatic place in Kenya’s team to Poland, Kisorio, who has had a good local season, was handed one of the two wild card entries to the 12km team.
“I do not know what happened. I was well prepared for the race and I knew I would do well. But it was not to be. However, I am happy for the second chance and I will make sure I repay the coaches when we go to camp. In one week I will have recovered and will be ready to show my true potential,” said Kisorio.
Masai – ‘I am ready for anyone’ - senior women’s 8km
It’s amazing that Linet Masai had until Saturday never won a competitive domestic cross country race.
And after suffering an upset defeat to World 5000m champion Vivian Cheruiyot recently, Masai was out for the big one, especially given that Cheruiyot and defending World champion Florence Kiplagat were not on the start list.
Masai won the race in 26:43.0 after shaking off the opposition by the five kilometre mark and made the team to Poland that also had Lineth Chepkurui, Margaret Wangare, Emily Muge, Ann Wanjiru and Gladys Chepngeno named.
“I am ready for anyone. I have just tested my speed and endurance in such wet conditions here and I have been reassured of my performance as strong. I will assess and examine each rival separately and when we arrive in Poland, we will be one big Kenyan family. We will triumph,” said Masai.
It was near disaster for the new Kenyan champ after she lost her shoe at the four-kilometre mark.
“I never looked behind. The danger was ahead not behind. I realised that I had not been spiked so I moved on. It was a bit slippery, especially on the corners, but I made sure I opened a gap to help me balance properly. In the end it paid off,” said Masai.
At the six-kilometre lap, Chepkurui looked dead and buried in a distant sixth, but she managed to gain on her rivals heading into the final lap.
“I realised that I was lagging behind and I opted to increase pace. But I will like to stay closer to Masai so that we can run as a team,” she said after her brilliant burst of late energy that saw her eventually finish second to Masai in 27:03.5.
Kenya had to wait for 15 years after Hellen Chepng’eno’s victory in Budapest in 1994 before Kiplagat broke the jinx in Poland last year. Masai is confident she will keep the winning ways in Poland next month.
Junior men’s 8km -
The junior men’s 8km race was a four-horse affair as Charles Chebet, Paul Mutero, Caleb Mwangangi and Japhet Korir (fifth at the World Cross Country Championships in Amman last year) exchanged the lead going in the final two kilometres.
Mwangangi then made a move with World youth 3000m champion Isaiah Kiplang’at going with him, but it was Chebet who had the finishing kick in him, blasting through the final kilometre in 20:38.0.
Mutero (23:40.8), Mwangangi (23:42.4) and Korir (23:48.5) checked in second, third and fourth respectively.
“I am proud with the victory. The course was tough given the heavy rain and I expected stiff challenge from Korir who beat me in Amman last year, where the course was tough. But I had undergone enough training and was well prepared for the win. I believe I will acclimatise with the cold weather in Europe,” said Chebet, 19, from Marakwet District.
Junior women’s 6km -
World youth 1500m champion Nelly Chebet beat a classy field which included World youth 3000m title holder Purity Cherotich and World junior 3000m champion Mercy Cherono in a thrilling 6km junior women’s race.
Coming into the nationals, Chebet had already chalked up wins in Kapsakwony and Eldoret in the national cross country series while Cherono won the Kisii and Kapsokwony legs.
Chebet’s speed at the final kilometre carried the day as she won in 20:12.7 with pre-race favourite Cherono finishing in fourth 20:21.6) behind Chebet, Purity Cherotich (20:13.6) and Faith Chepng’etich (20:15.6).
“The start was on a high pace and we were forced to maintain it as we feared one another, Chebet said after her win.
“I found the course a good one since I had trained at the hilly Mt Elgon Forest, and, therefore, capitalised on the difficulties of my opponents who could not adapt to it. I really had the stamina and hope to maintain it to counter the Ethiopians in Poland. We must win both individual and team titles,” added Chebet, a Form Three Student at Riruta Central Secondary School in Nairobi and fifth in Amman last year.
Cherono, who won gold in 3000m at the Polish city of Bydgoszcz in 2008, was happy to have made the team.
“I’m pleased that I managed to make the cut to the team. My next hurdle is to fight for another gold medal in Poland. And I am delighted that I will make it as I am well versed with the area,” said Cherono, a Form Four Student at Ngariet Secondary School in Sotik in the South Rift Valley.
Elias Makori for IAAF
Kenya squad to the World Cross Country Championships:
Senior men – Paul Tanui, Lucas Rotich, Joseph Ebuya, Hosea Macharinyang, Leonard Komon, Richard Mateelong, Mathew Kisorio.
Senior women – Linet Masai, Lineth Chepkurui, Margaret Wangare, Emily Muge, Ann Wanjiru, Gladys Chepngeno.
Junior men – Charles Chebet, Paul Mutero, Caleb Mwangangi, Japheth Korir, Gideon Kipketer, Isaiah Kiplagat.
Junior women – Nelly Chebet, Purity Cherotich, Faith Chepngetich, Mercy Cherono, Alice Aprot, Esther Chemutai.
Coaches - David Leting, John ‘Warm-up’ Mwithiga, Charles Mathu.
Senior MEN (12 km) - 1. Paul Tanui 35:12.5 2. Lucas Rotich 35:42.7 3. Joseph Ebuya 35:44.8 4. Hosea Macharinyang 35:47.4 5. Leonard Komon 35:56.2 6. Richard Mateelong 35:58.0 7. Bernard Kipyego 35:59.0 8. John Thuo 35:59.7 9. Jonathan Kosgei 36:04.5 10. Julius Kogo 36:05.7
Senior WOMEN (8 km) - 8km women – 1. Linet Masai 26:43.0 2. Lineth Chepkurui 27:03.5 3. Margaret Wangare 27:05.8 4. Emily Muge 27:06.6 5. Monica Wangare 27:13.2 6. Anne Wanjiru 27:14.4 7. Esther Chemutai 27:17.0 8. Pamela Losereng 27:21.0 9. Veronica Nyaruai 27:26.2 10. Edna Kiplagat 27:27.7
Junior MEN (8 km) - 1. Charles Chebet 20:38.0 2. Paul Mutero 23:40.8 3. Caleb Mwangangi 23:42.4 4. Japheth Korir 23:48.5 5. Gedion Kipketer 23:52.6 6. Isaiah Kiplang’at 23:54.6
Junior WOMEN (6 km) - 1. Nelly Chebet 20:12.7 2. Purity Cherotich 20:13.6 3. Faith Chepng’etich 20:15.6 4. Mercy Cherono 20:21.6 5. Alice Aprot 20:24.6 6. Esther Chemutai 20:32.5