Under sunny and cool conditions, the fourth KCB/AK National Cross Country series in Kangaru, belonged to John Chepkwony, novice Pauline Njeri and World Cross junior fourth finisher, Faith Chepng’etich who powered to their second victories of the season on Saturday (27 November).
The Embu meet, held at the chosen location for residential training of successive Kenyan teams to the World Cross did not disappoint with high profile names such as Olympics 1500m champion, Asbel Kiprop, featuring.
In total, 410 participants, 205 among them crowding the senior men 12km long race, faced the starters’ gun at the challenging Kangaru High School course at the outskirts of the town.
Men 12km long race
John Chepkwony, the World Juniors 5000m silver winner from Moncton last summer, sustained his storming introduction to senior ranks when he outpaced Josphat Bett, the 2008 World Junior 10,000m titleholder at the final incline during the day’s most anticipated and entered race.
Chepkwony’s triumph repeated his performance at the second meet in Kipkelion, Kericho a fortnight earlier. He engaged the same front running tactics on a course specifically laid out by Kenyan head coaches following complaints of sub-standard courses at the preceding three meetings.
From the gun, Chepkwony who joined the Kenya Army upon returning from his World Junior victory in Canada, ran to the front and kept there with Bett, who is charting a way back to the top of the pile following two injury plagued seasons, assuming the role of main contender.
Alex Oloitiptip, 21, whose talent has been boiling under the surface of the local running scene for the past three seasons without breaking into his country’s team, and Abraham Cherono the veteran steeplechaser, werealso among the leading pack challenging for the win.
Chepkwony and Bett, who showed glimpses of the searing form he possessed when he ascended to the 2008 World Junior title in Bydgoszcz, disentangled themselves at the bell to chase down each other for victory.
With the tape in sight, Chepkwony found a higher gear to romp home in 36:12.2 with Bett (36:14.0) in second.
Behind them, Oloitiptip (36:22.4) won the battle for third against a tiring Cherono, the elder brother of World Steeplechase record holder, Saif Saaeed Shaheen, who settled for fourth in 36:28.0.
With the Kenya Police athletics team holding a camp in Embu, most of their decorated runners, among them Asbel Kiprop either took part or watched from the sidelines.
After extending his long legs for two-laps for the benefit of the crowd, Kiprop ended his participation while Mark Kiptoo (Armed Forces), a bronze winner from African and Commonwealth championships, who captained the Amman World Cross team faded to an outside the top ten finish.
Women 8km senior
Pauline Njeri formally introduced herself as ‘one to watch out for’ when she outclassed all challengers at the opening series in Tala, Kangundo on 6 November. Among others on that day she beat Margaret Wangari, the sixth finisher at this year’s World Cross in Bydgoszcz. who played bridesmaid.
Well, Wangari, who first made the national team in 2008 at the Edinburgh World Cross was once again compelled to watch the back of the newcomer in Embu who breasted the tape ahead of her in 27:25.26 for her second victory of the campaign.
Just like in Kangundo, it was left for the two to challenge for victory but a clean pair of heels from the winner at the final 600m left Wangari with no option but to be satisfied with second best in 27:58.0.
Another Wangari, Mary in this case, ran 28:00.5 for third. Olympic 800m champion, Pamela Jelimo was among the top draws for this run but opted to sit out.
Men 8km junior
This is the most open event in the series after upstart David Bett became the fourth different winner of this category.
Nicholas Togom, a younger brother of Mombasa, Edinburgh and Amman World Cross competitor, Matthew Kisorio, came to Embu as favourite after sealing an emphatic victory at the second meeting in Kericho.
Patrick Mutunga, who placed fifth on that occasion, was also among the picks for top honours and the rated pair was joined by Bydgoszcz World Cross fourth finisher, Isaiah Kiplagat, Bett and Gilbert Kirui at the business end of the race at the 6km mark.
Just shy of the final 800m, Bett unleashed the decisive kick that propelled him to the tape in 23:45.9 while Kiplagat, gave a spirited chase before bowing to the winner in 23:55.3. It was an improved performance from the lanky runner who finished well down the pecking order in Kericho.
Kirui (24:11.5) locked out Togom (24:15.8/fourth) out of the podium with Mutunga yet again yielding fifth in 24:23.3.
Women 6km junior
Faith Chepn’getich blitzing start to the domestic cross season showed no signs of coming off the rails, as she staged a commanding victory.
Having finished outside the World XC podium in Poland (fourth), the diminutive athlete looks an odds on bet to scale the individual medal heights at the Punta Umbria World Cross next year if she sustains such showings.
At the opening meet in Tala, Kangundo, Chepng’etich scythed Esther Chemutai, the bronze winner in Poland in the contest for victory.
Another World Cross bronze winner, this time Jackline Chepng’eno from Amman, who is making a comeback to the reckoning after missing Bydgoszcz, ended up playing the role of leading the challengers home after Chepng’etich took the win in 20:17.0, sealing a ten seconds triumph.
Chepng’eno (20:27.5) secured runner-up ahead of Alice Aprot, the ninth finisher in Poland who recycled her third place finish at Kangundo with the ticker stopping at 20:39.6. Aprot is a niece of World Cross senior champion, Joseph Ebuya.
With their second victories in the seven-meet circuit that will culminate with the IAAF Permit/KCB/AK National Cross Country Championships in February, Chepkwony, Njeri and Chepng’etich edged their noses in front of the $12,500 (Ksh1m) series jackpot queue.
Top six finishers earn points corresponding to their respective positions where the winners in all four categories will share the bounty. The series moves to Kisii next Saturday (4 December).
Mutwiri Mutuota (The Standard) for IAAF
12km senior men
1. John Chepkwony 36:12.2
2. Josphat Bett 36:14.0
3. Alex Oloitiptip 36:22.4
4. Abraham Cherono 36:28.0
5. Lewis Mosoti 36:45.7
6. Richard Ndegwa 36:47.6
8km senior women
1. Pauline Njeri 27:56.5
2. Margaret Wangari 27:58.0
3. Mary Wangari 28:00.5
4. Agnes Chebet 28:07.3
5. Filomena Chumba 28:27.3
6. Alice Mogire 28:31.0
8km junior men
1. David Bett 23:45.9
2. Isaiah Kiplagat 23:55.3
3. Gilbert Kirui 24:11.5
4. Nicholas Togom 24:15.8
5. Patrick Mutunga 24:23.3
6. Johnson Kiiru 24:33.5
6km junior women
1. Faith Cheng’etich 20:17.0
2. Jackline Chepng’eno 20:27.5
3. Alice Aprot 20:39.6
4. Naomi Chemng’eno 20:55.5
5. Roseline Chemng’etich 21:09.5
6. Pauline Eapan 21:10.5