by Phil Minshull for IAAF
24 March 2001 - Ostend - With all three of the medallists from last years junior womens race still eligible and lined up at the start, it was a fair bet that one of them would triumph but it was the 2000 bronze medallist Viola Kibiwot who was to master the muddy conditions in Ostend rather than her compatriots Vivian Cheruiyot and Alice Timbilil, the gold and silver medallists 12 months ago.
I surprised myself today," said the 17 year-old schoolgirl, another prodigy from the famous St Patricks School production line of Colm OConnell.
"I had been running well in our training camp but I didnt expect to win. But perhaps our coaches knew something I didnt because they told me and Alice Timbilil to go to the front from the halfway point because that was where we could control the race from," she added shyly.
The victory also made up for a year of disappointment since her third place in Portugal. Timbilil and Cheruiyot went to the Sydney Olympics and others made the trip to the IAAF World Junior Championships in Santiago, but Kibiwot stayed at home. Ostend was her first destination outside of Kenya since she went to Vilamoura last March.
"I didnt make as much progress as I had hoped last summer. Although I was third ranked Kenyan long distance runner, we could only send two to the World Junior Championships and so I didnt get to go. I was unhappy at the time but it made me determined to do well and qualify for this championship again."
The race, as has become the norm in recent years, was dominated by the Kenyan and Ethiopian squads after the Japanese early pace setter Tomoni Tagao had been reeled in after the opening kilometre.
A group of five Ethiopians and five Kenyans soon detached themselves from the rest of the field and the race was on to determine which of the Rift Valley rivals would come out on top with only Australias Melissa Rollison and Tanzanias Anna Ndegewho were to finish 14th and 15th eventuallydaring to intrude on the private party by staying in close attendance.
At the halfway point in the 5.9 kilometre race Kenyas Fridah Domongole had been doing most of the work, and Kibiwot was later to admit that she had been designated to make the pace, but then Kibiwot and Cheruiyot took over at the head of the race as Timbilil had a race she will want to quickly forget and slipped backwards, ending up 16th.
As the leading pair entered the final kilometre, it looked as though the Kenyan pair were going dispute the gold medal between themselves but then in the final few hundred metres the Ethiopians Abebech Negussie and Aster Bacha found another gear and got up to the shoulder of Kibiwot, who got a two metres advantage on her fellow Kenyan.
In the final 50 metres it was impossible to predict who was going to be the new champion but in the closest finish in the 13 editions of the junior womens race Kibiwot got the verdict, with the world junior 1,500 metres champion Negussie being awarded the silver and her team mate Bacha getting the bronze.
All three were given the same time of 22:05, the first time ever that a photo-finish has been required to confirm the final placings.
"I didnt even know the Ethiopians were on my should until it was too later," admitted Kibiwot.
Ethiopia though had some compensation as it regained the team title after a years gap, just edging out Kenya by 16 points to 20, as runners from the two countries filled the first ten places. Winning the race for the rest of the world was Japans Naoko Sakata, who came through strongly in the second half of the race to finish 11th and lead her country to the team bronze medals for the fourth consecutive year.