It was another Kenyan distance running masterclass at the Zatopek 10 in Melbourne on Saturday (10), a race record from Joyce Chepkirui and London Olympic qualifying standards from Emmanuel Bett and Bitan Karoki providing the racing highlights of a rainy summer evening.
The 51st Zatopek: 10 was the first major event at the new athletics facility and the official opening competition. State minister for sport Hugh Delahunty may have cut the ribbon to open the stadium, but it was Kenyan distance runners who broke the tape first in the night’s major events.
Chepkirui won a magnificent battle with her countrywoman Emil Chebet to win the women’s race in 31:26.10, slicing 0.24 off the race record held by Susie Power since 2001. Despite Kenya’s great record of success in the men’s race, Chepkirui is the first Kenyan and the fourth international athlete to win the women’s race. Sonia O’Sullivan of Ireland, these days resident in Australia, and New Zealand's Kate McIlroy and Jessica Ruthe are the other overseas winners.
The only other Kenya woman to compete is 1997 World champion Sally Barsosio, who finished fourth in the 1999 race.
Chepkirui’s previous track credentials were largely at 1500 metres but she had showed outstanding distance potential with a fifth place in the World Half Marathon Championships last year. But she faced a formidable opponent in Chebet, the 2010 World Cross Country champion.
The pair took care of the local opposition early, then settled down to share the ever-incresing pace. The first 1000 metres occupied a leisurely 3:20, the first half 15:54. But they powered home through the steady rain in the second half.
Chebet took second place in 31:30.22, with both athletes achieving their main aim of Olympic A-qualifying standards. With World champion Vivian Cheruiyot, 2011 silver medallist Sally Kipyego and 2009 World champion Linet Masai to beat in the trials, getting a spot in the London 2012 team will be a tough assignment.
Emily Brichacek impressed recently with an impressive final leg in the Chiba Ekiden Relay. She impressed even further at the Zatopek, taking the taking the Australian title in finishing third in 33:02.55. It was her track debut at the distance.
Jess Trengove was next in 33:16.72 and Belinda Martin took the national bronze medal in 35:00.03.
Bett, Karoki and 2008 Beijing Olympic bronze medallist Micah Kogo turned in a similar display of aggressive front-running in the men‘s race. At half-way in 13:56, they had already disposed of Craig Mottram, but defending national champion Ben St Lawrence and 2008 Zatopek winner David McNeill still clung to their heels.
A couple more surges reduced it to a fight between the three Kenyans. Karoki’s move down the back-straight with 700 metres to run dropped Kogo from winning contention.
It was Bett, however, the man who made his track debut just this year with a 26:51 in Brussels who proved the stronger finisher. He took the lead off the final bend and went on to win narrowly, 27:39.33 to 27:40.11.
Kogo was third in 27:50.50 while St Lawrence took the Australian title, and just missed breaking 28 minutes, with fourth place in 28:01.68. McNeill, 28:12.66, and Harry Summers, 28:39.04, took the national silver and bronze medals.
Mottram faded to seventh place in 28:52.20. His main Olympic aim remains the 5000 metres, but he had wanted to secure a place in the Australian team for London 2012 in the 10,000 metres, if possible.
In other feature events, Sydney 2000 Olympic champion Reuben Kosgei of Kenya took the steeple in 8:39.38, while Jordan Williamsz and Celia Sullohern took the U20 3000 metres races. Sullohern was Australia’s top finisher in 21st place in the junior race at this year’s World Cross Country Championships in Punta Umbria.
Twice World champion in the 400 metres Hurdles, Jana Pittman, continued her return to competition, racing for the third time in as many weeks. Pittman ran first leg for her club, Glenhuntly, in a 4x400 metres relay, setting them up for a narrow win in the Victorian state championships. Unofficially, her split time was just over 55 seconds.
Tamsyn Manou (nee Lewis), the 2008 World Indoor champion at 800 metres, ran the third leg for her Sandringham club, which took third place overall.
Len Johnson for the IAAF