The annual Kenyan Championships closed on Saturday (22) with Geoffrey Mutai blasting to 10,000m victory in a brisk 27:55.3 as Lidya Chepkurui’s ascendancy in the women’s 3000m Steeple continued in blistering fashion.
Among the myriad highlights at the star-studded three-day meet at Moi International Sports Complex, World indoor 3000m champion Hellen Obiri won her third successive national 1500m title as national record-holder Julius Yego once again ruled the Javelin with a winning 76.49m throw.
With selection for the IAAF World Championships in Moscow the primary concern, battle lines were drawn ahead of the Kenyan Trials on 15 July with studs such as World 1500m champion Asbel Kiprop and 2006 Commonwealth 5000m champion Augustine Choge all impressing, despite dropping down in distance.
Mutai rediscovers his mojo
Widely hailed as the best marathoner on the planet over the last three years, Geoffrey Mutai showed the speed has not deserted his legs with a thrilling performance in the men’s 10,000m.
Mutai, who enjoyed his Annus Mirabilis in 2011 with course-record victories in both Boston and New York, picked up the pace from as early as the second lap. The reigning Berlin Marathon champion then blew away most of the rest of the field, before finally shaking off 2008 World junior 10,000m champion Josphat Bett and Emmanuel Kipsang in the final 200m.
The 31-year-old crossed the line in 27:55.30, giving the watching team selectors a compelling reason to enter him for Moscow.
“The pace was fast and I’m delighted to have recovered from the knee injury that affected me in London,” he said. “If I’m not selected in the men’s Marathon team for Moscow, then I will return to the Trials and try this race since I have seen I can make the national team.
“There is nothing that gives an athlete more joy than to run for his country,” he added. “I have achieved many things and my wish is to be remembered for representing my nation.”
Mutai’s chances of bagging one of the coveted Kenyan tickets due to be announced on Monday are looking healthy after AK President Isaiah Kiplagat confirmed that two-time World champion Abel Kirui will not defend his title in Moscow after injuring his ankle.
Olympic bronze medallist Wilson Kipsang also took himself out of the running, choosing instead to focus on a World record attempt at September’s Berlin Marathon.
The women’s 10,000m was also dominated by marathoners, with double Olympian Lucy Kaabuu prevailing over World Marathon bronze medallist Sharon Cherop, 32:44.1 to 32:46.3, with 2011 Boston Marathon winner Caroline Kilel taking bronze in 32:51.0.
Chepkurui’s momentum grows
Having graduated from pace-making duties for training partner Milcah Chemos to go on to 2013 Diamond League victories in Doha and Shanghai, Lidya Chepkurui succeeded Chemos as national 3000m Steeplechase champion in a compelling display of front running.
She romped home ahead of Commonwealth bronze medallist Gladys Kipkemboi in 9:38.6. Kipkemboi took silver in 9:41.3 with Fancy Cherotich (9:46.2) rounding off the top three.
“I’m so excited to win here today and this season’s performances have been aided by training with Milcah who encouraged me to finish races,” said a smiling Chepkurui. “Should I make the team, we shall take the fight to the strong Russian girls who have been winning this race, but a medal of any kind would make me so happy.”
2008 Olympic 1500m champion Nancy Jebet Langat has missed most of the past two seasons with a serious knee injury, but made a strong return here to finish third behind World indoor 3000m champion Hellen Obiri (4:05.3) and two-time World junior champion Mercy Cherono (4:06.3).
“Since the fall in Daegu, I learned how to run from the front and not risk hanging deep in the pack and I’m now getting it together,” said Obiri, who set a PB of 3:58.58 in Eugene earlier this month. “My wish is to make a better mark in Moscow, but first I must qualify so I won’t compete anywhere else before the trials.”
“It was painful to sit at home as others ran out there [at the Olympics] and I’m pleased that today, I came here and felt comfortable on the track,” said Langat. “I cannot say whether I can achieve the form I had in Beijing or Delhi but there is still time between now and the World Championships to prepare.”
In the men’s equivalent, World indoor 3000m silver medallist Augustine Choge ran to a thrilling 3:34.7 victory over London finalist Nixon Chepseba and former World junior silver medallist James Magut in the surge for the line.
“Beating such a tough field gives me confidence ahead of the Trials,” said Choge, who will target the 5000m at the Kenyan Trials. “The 5000m has good young runners like Isiah Koech, Edwin Soi and Olympic bronze medallist Thomas Longosiwa waiting, so this race was to work on my speed.”
Magut (3:35.2) was second ahead of Chepseba (3:35.5), who was evidently disappointed in the outcome as he targets redemption in Moscow after his calamitous Olympic debut.
“This sets me up nicely to face Kenenisa Bekele who is going for a fast 5000m to make the Ethiopian team in my last race before the Trials,” added Choge of the prospect of a tight showdown against the World record-holder.
Former World junior 800m silver medallist Winnie Chebet (2:00.04) was too strong for African bronze medallist Eunice Sum (2:00.06) in the women’s two-lap race, while World 1500m champion Asbel Kiprop (1:45.5) settled for bronze in the men’s 800m behind winner Job Kinyor (1:44.9) and the fast-finishing Rotich Cheruiyot (1:45.1).
“Since I don’t have the pressure of competing at the trials, my aim is to go to Monaco and set a personal best,” said Kiprop, the 2008 Olympic champion. “I feel comfortable on that track where I ran my best of 3:28.88 last year, and then I’ll focus on Moscow.”
Yego reigns in the field
Rising Javelin star Julius Yego made history last year as the first Kenyan thrower ever to make an Olympic final.
Fresh from his training stint in Finland, Yego produced the best throw of the day with 76.49m, having started in second with 69.51m.
“It gives me encouragement to see others coming and we have seen some here with the potential to throw over 70 metres without training,” he said. “I’m under no pressure going to Moscow since unlike last year, everyone knows I’m around.
“Since London, I have participated in many European events and seen how the best do it. With a season’s best so far of 81 metres, there’s still time to get better and my target remains making the final at my first World Championships.”
Special mention should also go to World youth silver medallist Alphas Kishoiyan, who impressed in the men’s 400m with 45.5 in the semi-final and final, raising hopes of a team berth for Moscow.
Ageless race walker David Kimutai, who is eyeing a third World Championships at age 43, showed no signs slowing after collecting his 12th national title. Meanwhile, African record-holder Grace Njue prevailed in the women’s event, clocking 1:38.15 on a slightly elevated course.
Mutwiri Mutuota (Capital FM) for the IAAF
1 Job Kinyor 1:44.9
2 Rotich Cheruiyot 1:45.1
3 Asbel Kiprop 1:45.5
1 Augustine Choge 3:34.7
2 James Magut 3:35.2
3 Nixon Chepseba 3:35.5
1 Kibet Koech 8:21.5
2 Lawrence Kemboi 8:25.0
3 Edwin Kirwa 8:25.2
1 Isiah Koech 13:30.4
2 Leonard Oloitiptip 13:31.1
3 Josphat Bett 13:35.5
1 Geoffrey Mutai 27:55.3
2 Josphat Bett 27:56.0
3 Emmanuel Kipsang 27:59.7
1 Winnie Chebet 2:00.04
2 Eunice Sum 2:00.06
3 Sylvia Chesebe 2:00.76
1 Hellen Obiri 4:05.3
2 Mercy Cherono 4:06.3
3 Nancy Langat 4:06.5
1 Lidya Chepkirui 9:38.6
2 Gladys Kemboi 9:41.3
3 Fancy Cherotich 9:46.2
1 Mary Wachera 16:03.7
2 Stacy Ndiwa 16:04.0
3 Sylvia Kibet 16:04.3
1 Lucy Kabuu 32:44.1
2 Sharon Cherop 32:46.3
3 Caroline Kilel 32:51.0