Faith Chepngetich Kipyegon sprinted to victory in the IAAF World Cross Country Championships opening race, the junior women’s event, at Punta Umbria 2011, a sparkling sprint under a brilliant sun.
A year ago, the barefoot Kipyegon lost the individual bronze medal to team-mate Purity Rionoripo in the final sprint to the line. This time, she again went barefoot on the fast, well-grassed Punta Umbria circuit, but she made sure there was a long, sustained final sprint, not a short, explosive one.
At the line, Kipyegon was a full second clear of Ethiopian pair Genet Yalew and Azemra Gebru. With Wagnesh Mekasha taking fourth and Emebet Anteneh eighth, Ethiopia regained the team title from Kenya, 17 points to 19.
Sole Kenyan hope
Kipyegon had been aware of the team situation as she made her winning surge. “With half a lap to go, I realised my team-mates had drifted back,” she said after her win.
“At that point, I realised I was Kenya’s only hope for a gold medal and I concentrated on my sprint.”
Kenyan selection trial winner was the final runner to drop off the lead group, trotting across the line in an isolated fifth position. Nancy Chepkwemoi and Rionoripo followed her home, but the damage was already done.
From the start, it was evident that the team gold was to be between the two East African rivals, but early on there were already signs of an Ethiopian resurgence from the disappointing (from their perspective only) returns from Bydgoczsz. Even in the first lap there were five Ethiopians and four Kenyans in the lead pack.
All the way through, this trend continued until, even in the final group of five, Ethiopian maintained the numbers.
“It was a very tough race,” the winner said. “I was surprised at how strong the Ethiopian runners were. They really made the race very hard.”
Ethiopia had prepared with exactly that in mind. Both Gebru and Yalew remarked on it during the medallists’ press conference.
“What changed was that our preparation was very good,” said Yalew. “Last year we prepared as individuals, not as a team. This year we trained as a national team.”
Yalew was clearly proud to restore the national pride badly dented in Poland a year ago. Asked who of her illustrious countrywomen she looked to as role models, she replied:
“I admire all our athletes, but especially Tirunesh Dibaba and Meseret Defar for what they have achieved for our country.”
Emotional team bronze for Japan
Japan took a highly emotional team bronze medal. A minute’s silence was observed before the race to honour the victims of the devastating earthquake and consequent tsunami which struck the northern part of Japan recently.
Led by Katuski Suga in 12th place – the first non-east African to finish – and Tomoka Kimura in 13th, Japan overtook Eritrea in the team standings in the second half of the race, 74 points to 90.
The first European finisher was Emelia Gorecka of Great Britain in 15th place, building on her 23rd from last year. Born in 1994, Gorecka has one more chance to break into the top 10 in junior ranks.
The USA placed two in the top 20, Aisling Cuffe taking 17th place and Katie Flood 19th.
Australia’s sole competitor, Celia Sullohern was also prominent in the chasing pack throughout the race. She finished 21st.
With Japan third in the team race, Great Britain fifth, the USA seventh and Morocco eighth the top of the teams race had a pleasing international mix.
Len Johnson for the IAAF