Florence Kiplagat unleashes a fearsome sprint finish to kick past long-time leader Linet Masai and take the win (Getty Images) © Copyright
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Does Kenyan dominance in Nanning point to another sweep in Punta Umbria?

Kenya had an historically successful IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland last March, becoming the first country ever to take all eight titles (four team and four individual), and results from the recent IAAF / SINOPEC World Half Marathon Championships, Nanning, China, would seem to augur well for a repeat performance in Punta Umbria 2011.

Bydgoszcz will long live in the annals of long distance running as one of the most dominant performances ever by any one nation at global level. Inspired, Kenya’s road racers took up the mantle of success on 16 October sweeping their way to all four World titles at Half Marathon.

Ethiopia and Eritrea, so long the only opponents to trouble Kenya across the country and on the roads were very much squeezed off the podium in 2010. As well as all the titles, Kenya swept the individual medals in both junior races and took a one-two in the senior women’s race at the 2010 World Cross. Their principal rivals took just one individual medal each in Bydgoszcz, with Ethiopia additionally taking 3 teams silvers and one bronze and Eritrea one team silver. Uganda was the next best with three bronze medals (two team, one individual), and the USA impressively captured the one remaining team bronze in Poland.

Seven months later and the results on the roads of Nanning again emphatically demonstrated Kenya’s distance running strength with the individual gold and bronze in both races - only the fourth time that one nation’s runners had run to both titles since the inception of these championships in 1992 - sandwiching in silver’s for Eritrea (Zersenay Tadese) and Ethiopia (Dire Tune), and listening to the Kenyan race winners Wilson Kiprop and Florence Kiplagat, it is very much a matter of ‘Next Stop Spain’!

As soon as they crossed the line in China, the Kenyan victors had already turned their ambitions to the 39th edition of the IAAF World Cross Country Championships which will be held in Punta Umbria, Spain on 20 March 2011.

Wilson Kiprop, whose year has also included the national and African 10,000m titles on home turf in the high altitude of Nairobi, has already run a marathon, finishing fifth in 2:09:09 in Prague in May, but he’s not yet ready to turn his full attentions to the longer distance.

“I’m not ready for another marathon this year. But I am looking to run well and at the World Cross Country Championships,” said Kiprop in Nanning.

It would comes as no real surprise if his female counterpart Florence Kiplagat possessed similar World Cross Country ambitions, as she has already captured and individual title World Cross Country, having won in Amman in 2009.

Kiplagat, the national track record holder for 10,000m (30:11.59 from 2009), still has plenty to achieve across the country and on the track before looking to a marathon.

There will be many in Ethiopia and Eritrea hoping that the large prize purses of a major city race might still divert Kiprop and Kiplagat to the roads before Punta Umbria dawns.