Reigning champion Faith Chepngetich Kipyegon successfully defended her junior women’s crown at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland, on Sunday (24).
The 19-year-old Kenyan, who became just the third woman to retain her title in the history of the event, replicated the achievements of her fellow countrywoman Viola Kibiwot in 2001 and 2002, and Ethiopia’s Genzebe Dibaba in 2008 and 2009.
Contesting three laps over a frozen and snow-covered 6km course, Kipyegon initially held back after the gun, sitting in fifth place with her teammate 17-year-old Agnes Chebet Tirop and Ethiopia’s Ruti Aga, the World junior 5000m silver medallist at the fore of the field.
Striding out over an undulating route with a few patches of bare grass in below-zero temperatures, Kipyegon – who also won the World junior 1500m title on the track last summer – joined Tirop at the front of the leading pack at just after the first kilometre.
Negotiating several rhythm-sapping mounds and a steep incline towards the end of each lap, the pair ran stride for stride as the 17-year-old Ethiopian Alemitu Heroye made a duo a trio towards the end of the first lap.
A further kilometre in, the trio started to put some distance between themselves and the rest of the pack before the Kenyan pair broke away from their East-African rival, with Tirop, the World junior 5000m bronze medallist, trying to inch ahead.
Just under a kilometre remaining, Ethiopian trials winner Heroye rejoined the pair only for the Kenyans to pull clear again up final the long uphill stretch and then, on the decline, Kipyegon showed an impressive change of pace to sprint away from her compatriot in the final 300m for victory.
The winner eased off in the final few metres and Tirop was awarded the same time of 17.51 for the silver medal as Heroye hung on and crossed the line six seconds adrift to take third place.
Further back, Kenya’s Caroline Chepkoech Kipkirui finished fourth in 18:09 with early leader Aga fifth in 18:18.
Ethiopia’s World junior 5000m champion Buze Diriba placed eighth while the top non-African, and the first European athlete to cross the line was Great Britain’s 2011 European Cross Country Championships winner, who took 16th position in 19:19.
In the team contest, Kenya comfortably claimed the spoils with 14 points, packing their four scoring women into the top five places to regain the title they lost in 2011 by two points to Ethiopia. The latter took the silver medals on this occasion with 23 points.
In fact, the top 12 positions were occupied by just Kenyan and Ethiopian women.
Taking the bronze medals with 81 points, Great Britain captured their first ever place on the podium in the category, and the nation’s first medals of any description since 2004.
A now biennial event, the illustrious race took place on the same Myslecinek Park course as the 2010 Championships and enjoyed a total of 88 competing athletes from 22 countries.
Nicola Bamford for the IAAF