Men's Short Course Race
18 March 2000 - Vilamoura, Portugal - Before this race, talk was of whether two in-form Ethiopians, Million Wolde and Hailu Mekkonen, could become the first World Junior champions to win a Senior individual title. Yet, on a glorious spring day in Vilamoura (22 degrees), we witnessed another incredible demonstration of Kenyan power, as John Kibowen, injured for all of 1999, out-sprinted his team mates Paul Koskei and Sammy Kipketer to win his second short course title.
The Kenyan team seized the initiative from the gun, sprinting hard down the lush grass expanse of the starting straight. Once into their stride, they made a mockery of the steep sided hills installed on the course. Bounding up them, the Kenyans simply used the downward slope to increase their speed. By 1km, reached in 2:33, it was clear that it would be the Moroccans Said El Wardi and Ali Ezzine, rather than Ethiopians, who would pose the Kenyans the greatest threat.
Yet by the halfway point, even the brave Moroccans were struggling in the slipstream as Paul Koskei, who has been a silver and bronze medallist in the past editions of this event, kicked hard in a bid for glory. Once it was clear that the three medals were in the bag, the gloves came off and it was every Kenyan for himself. Although Koskei seemed destined for gold, Kibowen had not lost touch and, after a terrific sprint over the last 150 metres, edged past into the lead, right in front of the main stand. To the echoes of applause, Kibowen crossed the line with a smile on his face. His winning time was 11:11, just 1 second ahead of Sammy Kipketer, with Kosgei third in 11:15.
"It feels great to have come back after two years. But it was very tough today. I have encountered a lot of difficulties in training before getting to this point but I'm through with all that now. Mostly, I am very, very grateful. It is good to be able to come back like this. I am very happy for those fans who have not lost faith in me."
First European home was Sergey Lebed of the Ukraine in 10th place (11:36). Mekonnen made up a lot of ground in the last third of the race to finish 6th with Wolde a disappointing 15th, beaten by his team mates Abiyote Abate and Dagne Alemu. It emerged later that both Mekonnen and Wolde fell heavily just after the start, which not only affected their performance but unnerved their team-mates who were running alongside.
Not surprisingly, Kenya took first place in the team contest, followed by Ethiopia and Morocco.