After making an impressive return to the top of the podium at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in the Polish city Bydgoszcz on Sunday (24), Emily Chebet has set her sights on transferring her sparkling form to the track at the IAAF World Championships in Moscow this summer.
The 27-year-old turned back the clock to replicate her 2010 victory on the Myslecinek Park course by sprinting away from Ethiopia’s Hiwot Ayalew and Belaynesh Oljira in the closing stages of the race.
Having been almost inseparable from Ayalew for most of the race, Chebet was trailing the 2013 Ethiopian cross country champion by three seconds with just 800m remaining but managed to chase her down and overtake in an exhilarating finish.
It was the biggest win of her career since she first took the global crown three years ago, having suffered from a long-time knee injury and a subsequent dip in form.
Indeed, Chebet herself – who is married to 2008 Kenyan 10,000m champion Edward Muge – was pleasantly surprised by the outcome on a snow-drenched course in sub-zero temperatures.
“I wasn’t expecting to perform well here as the course was badly affected by the weather so I thank God for letting me win the title again,” she commented.
“I’ll come back to Poland as I like it here very much. I did the same tactics as in 2010 and when I saw that Ayalew was exhausted, I knew I’d overtake her at some point.”
A reserved Kenyan Administration police officer, Chebet certainly had a point to prove as she had failed to qualify for her national squad for the 2011 Championships in Punta Umbria and only placed fourth in her national trial for the event, having been spiked mid-way through the race.
Hailing from the Rift Valley province and based in Kericho, Chebet explained before the event that she believed Bydgoszcz was her destiny.
“In 2010, I finished fourth at the trials and went on to win gold. When I heard they returned the event there, I got the motivation to train hard, get back into shape and make the team since I missed defending my title in Spain.”
Her achievement therefore represents the ultimate redemption for Chebet as she majestically reclaimed the title she lost two years ago.
The modest and shy runner also led the Kenyan outfit to an emphatic gold medal-winning display, with 19 points with Ethiopia taking the silver with 48. It was Kenya’s fourth consecutive team title in the event and, having also been part of the winning team three years ago, Chebet’s fourth gold medal from the Championships.
Now, with her confidence restored, Chebet will turn her attentions to the road in the short term and then to the track in the summer.
“My main focus now (in the spring) is road races over 5km and 10km as I need to improve my form and strength if I am to go to the World Championships in Moscow,” she revealed.
“Then I want to try my luck at 10,000m so I’m going to try to make sure I get the opportunity to run for my country.”
Her one previous global championship was the 2007 World Championships, where she finished ninth over 10,000m before, but in September the following year, giving birth to her daughter Serah Cherono which effectively ruled out her competing at the highest level in 2009.
In 2011, injuries took their toll for much of the year and stopped her making a serious attempt at qualifying for the last World Championships, although she did clock what is her current 10,000m personal best of 31:30.22 at the end of that year in Australia.
Having also reduced her 10km best time on the roads to 30:58 last September in the Dutch city of Tilburg, now seems like the right time to take Chebet’s chances of honours on the track more serious in the wake of a glorious comeback campaign this winter.
Nicola Bamford for the IAAF