Lornah Kiplagat (NED) running in the 2003 World 10,000m final (Getty Images) © Copyright
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Reinvigorated Kiplagat should pose stiff challenge in Brussels

Eight years ago a forlorn Lornah Kiplagat stepped off the course at the World Cross Country Championships in Stellenbosch a beleaguered 80th.

Since that debut World Cross outing the Kenyan-born Dutch national has come a long way. She has developed into an outstanding road runner, ten miles (50:54) and 20km (63:54),  half marathon (66:34) and the marathon (2:22:22).

Track impact too

Yet up until last year Kiplagat had struggled to make any real impact outside of the hardcore road running scene and she believes this was largely down to the intransigence of selectors, who consistently ignored her major championship claims.

At last summer’s World Championships, in the colours of the Netherlands, she placed fourth over 10,000m registering 30:12.53 to climb to sixth on the all time rankings in only her second outing at the event.

Radcliffe defeat

Arguably, her most noteworthy achievement came last month when ending Paula Radcliffe’s two and a half year unbeaten streak in individual races at the World’s Best 10km in Puerto Rico.

Staged in driving rain and high winds Kiplagat defeated Radcliffe by four seconds in 30:41 to offer a clear indication of both her outstanding shape and medal winning potential ahead of August’s Olympic Games.

“I know Paula (Radcliffe) is a very good athlete as she has never been beaten in two and a half years,” Kiplagat said. “But I knew if I was in good shape I had a chance of winning. Two years ago when I raced her in the San Juan 10km’ I was racing in the Osaka Marathon three weeks later, so I was not in the best shape for 10km racing.”

This year Kiplagat showed her mettle, decisively defeating Radcliffe despite picking up a flu bug and missing three days training in the countdown to the race.

Brussels Cross Clash

Ironically, Kiplagat has been based for much of the year in the same high altitude training base of Albuquerque, New Mexico as Radcliffe, and she is to lock horns with the Briton again in both the long and the short race at this weekend’s IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Brussels, at which both athletes are entered.

However, Kiplagat, who celebrates her 30th birthday on Saturday, has a much lower expectation of herself on the country, and tips Radcliffe to prosper in Belgium.

“I have no idea how I will do in the cross country,” added Kiplagat. “The one time I ran before in the World Cross I finished 80th. I’m not really a cross country runner. It doesn’t suit my style of running. But I need to do everything to make me stronger and tougher for the 10,000m in Athens. I would be happy with top ten in both races. Paula is capable of winning both races (the 8km and 4km). She is a real cross country runner and showed by running 30:45 in Puerto Rico she is in very good shape.”

New national colours and a re-born runner

Nonetheless, despite Kiplagat’s modest cross country aims, the women who set up a high altitude training camp in her native Kenya five years ago appears an athlete re-born since representing her new nation, the Netherlands.

Since taking up Dutch citizenship, her home for the last five years and birthplace of her husband and agent Pieter Langerhorst, she has proved a point that she is also a track runner, particularly with her outstanding fourth place finish over 10,000m in Paris.

“I still have a lot of potential at the 10,000m,” she said of her decision to target this event at the Athens Olympics. “The humidity and pollution put me off running the marathon in Athens.”

Kiplagat hopes to secure her Olympic selection in a 10,000m race in Utrecht, Holland in mid-June and plans four or five other track outings before the Games.

But what does Kiplagat want to achieve in Athens?

“I will be very happy with the top three. I’m possibly not the fastest at the end but I will try to work on my speed.”

In the meantime, watch out for the women in the bright orange kit of Holland in Brussels this weekend. One suspects Kiplagat’s second taste of world cross country competition will prove considerably more successful than the first.