Benjamin Limo knew what the men’s short race gold medal looked like long before it was hung around his neck on Saturday. The 1998 winner John Kibowen is his next door neighbour at their village just outside the Kenyan town of Eldoret.
Kibowen was injured earlier this year and unable to defend his title and so Limo, fifth in last year’s race, decided to ensure that the short race honours did not stray too far.
The 24-year-old army engineer pushed the pace relentlessly throughout the 4,236m race.
Even though his compatriot Paul Kosgei kept close contact with him to the line, Limo showed the form that he had exhibited in the Kenyan training camp in Kigari throughout the last month which had his team officials quietly predicting victory for him.
"I took it easy for the first kilometre but after that I just kept on pushing and continued to try and push hard," said Limo.
A phalanx of four Kenyans, stretched across the course, passed the through the first kilometre in 2:44. The uphill stretch slowed the men, with the Frenchman Driss El Himer keeping close contact, to a 2:58 second kilometre but after that Limo was never headed, going through the third kilometre checkpoint in 8:36.
Limo crossed the line in 12:28 with Kosgei three seconds further back.
"I was third last year, second this year, so I am improving. Maybe next year I will go one better," a visibly disappointed Kosgei said, although his anguish was tempered by a team gold medal.
"When people were coming close to us, we made the pace high to make it a bit of a struggle," Limo added.
The men struggling behind them in the latter stages, world class runners in their own right, were the Ethiopian pair of Haylu Mekonnen and Million Wolde.
Wolde, whom many made the pre-race favourite, could never quite get on level terms with the Kenyan pair, and eventually finished fourth.
Instead it was less-heralded Mekonnen who won the race to be the final man on the podium. "It was a tough race," the young Ethiopian said.
"I always thought I might catch them (the Kenyans) but I was hoping Million would run better. He was not much help," the 1998 junior men’s bronze medallist added ruefully.
Limo put his victory over Kosgei down to the fact that he had travelled to Britain earlier in the winter to get used to the muddy conditions experienced in Belfast.
By contrast Kosgei is usually based in the warmer climes of Italy when he races in Europe.
"I was not worried about the conditions," Limo said, in contrast to the sentiments expressed by many in Northern Ireland. "I came to Europe for some cross country races during the winter and also it was raining while we were in the training camp."
His comments disproved some of the common notions and stereotypes that the Kenyans win their races more by luck than judgement. As befits his engineering background, Limo had tailored his preparations with precision.
However it was still a long road from where he was three years ago, a runner with talent and promise but few honours.
"Three years ago I was training but I have improved a lot in the last two years. To have a gold medal and be sitting here is something I could not have imagined back then," Limo said.
Nor could he have imagined that his army salary would have been swelled by the $40,000 first prize.
Next target will be another gold medal and another fistful of dollars at the World Championships in Seville this summer. "5,000m is probably my distance."
The Kenyans could not quite repeat last year’s feat of having the first five men home but with the steeplechaser James Kosgei finishing fifth and the Spanish-based Daniel Gachara coming home sixth, they still comfortably retained the team title they won in 1998, the inaugural year of the short races at the world cross country championships.
Morocco packed well, with their four scorers in the top 15, to just edge in front of Ethiopia for the team silver medals.
Winner - Benjamin Limo (KEN)
"We saw the Ethiopians win the Junior Woman’s race that made us more determined to win".
Second - Paul Kosgei (KEN)
"The Ethiopians were always going to be the big danger. They are coming closer all the time. More people are coming close. We see this. WE try to keep the pace high. That is something that we work at."
Third - Hailu Mekonnen (ETH)
"I think that I made a better choice running in this race rather than running in the 8km race. The bronze medal here is more important than the junior gold medal".
Phil Minshull for the IAAF