In a country where athletics reputations count very little, the 2010-2011 Kenya Commercial Bank (KCB)/Athletics Kenya Cross Country Series opened in Tala, Kangudo with Timothy Kiptoo and Pauline Njeri getting one over established runners in the senior races on Saturday (6 November).
The junior men’s 8km saw another of the renowned Masai distance running clan, Simon Cheprot appear on the radar, as the ‘class of 2010’ who graduated at the Bydgoszcz World Cross, Faith Chepng’etich, Esther Chemtai and Alice Aprot again proved peerless in the corresponding women’s 6km event.
Tala was the first stop in a seven-race circuit that will culminate in the 19 February 2011 IAAF Permit/KCB National Cross Country Championships at Nairobi’s Uhuru Gardens where Kenya’s team for the IAAF World Cross Country Championships, Punta Umbría, Spain, 20 March 2011 will be selected.
Senior men 12km
After missing selection for last March’s World Cross in Bydgoszcz, Poland, with an outside the top-ten finish at Kenya’s selection event, Timothy Kiptoo who ruled today has stepped up his preparations for the next edition by adopting the handy company of this year’s 1500m sensation, Silas Kiplagat (3:29.27 world leader) and Thomas Longosiwa (Beijing Olympics 5000m finalist) as training partners.
Mixing with athletes of such pedigree certainly paid dividends for Kiptoo on the mud-spattered Tala High School sand-soil course that was soaked in heavy showers hours before the start.
Kiptoo enjoyed a commanding victory over home favourite and last year’s winner, John Mwangangi who came to the men 12km showdown at the back of a fast 10km run at the Dam tot Dam loop from Amsterdam to Zaandam in September where he ran to a 45:26 victory.
“We had tough competition here but training with Kiplagat and Longosiwa in Eldoret has helped me improve. Being my first cross country victory, I’m very happy and I want to try my best and make next year’s World Cross team,” Kiptoo said after completing his authoritative 34:52 triumph.
He sat within the leading pack of 11 runners that went through the first two loops in a bunch before laying down his marker 200m inside the start of the third lap. Only his Kenya Prisons teammate Mwangangi, who won last year’s series opener in Machakos, could keep up with Kiptoo’s surge with the crowd, consisting mainly of Tala High School students urging him on.
However, the lanky Kiptoo steadily built his advantage and as they came to the bell, he had a healthy 70m lead that extended to almost 100m when he broke the tape.
“It was not that bad considering I suffered a stitch in the second loop. I persevered through pain to finish in this position and now, my focus is to make the team,” said Mwangangi who was second in 35:20.
Further back, Armed Forces runner, Richard Ndegwa (35:30) and Abraham Yano (35:43) came in for third and fourth in a field of 141 runners.
Senior women 8km
Margaret Wangari, sixth finisher in Bydgoszcz, started her march to Poland with victory at the opening meet of this series in Machakos last year but hopes of a repeat victory at this season’s opener was curtailed by newcomer Pauline Njeri. She is a member of Mashambani Athletics Club and its veteran coach John ‘Warm-up’ Mwithiga who has been on the Kenyan World Cross technical bench for the last six years.
From the gun, it took only a kilometre for the field of only 45 starters to turn into a convoy, with Wangari, Njeri off her shoulder and home runner, Eunice Mumbua, making up the front runners.
Midway, Mumbua succumbed to the relentless pace of the leading pair leaving Wangari and Njeri to exchange the lead. This state of affairs persisted until Njeri surprised her more illustrious rival with a devastating kick with 400m to go which secured victory in 27:06. Realising the victory was gone and the runner-up spot was secured, Wangari eased off to finish in 27:15, as Mumbua led the challengers home in 27:29 for third.
Junior men 8km
“Moses and Linet Masai are my cousins…,” Simon Cheprot proudly gushed following his polished victory over 137 challengers in the most intensely competed race of the day.
The winner is a distant relation on his father’s side to the women’s World 10,000m champion titleholder and her elder brother who won the World 10,000m bronze in Berlin.
In Tala, Cheprot left no doubt of his latent talent when he topped a field where only World Junior 800m champion, David Mutinda, who was dropped off in the second lap, was a recognisable figure.
The fact there was no obvious favourite might have contributed to the intensity through which the competitors went through 5km where a group of 11 still had a shout for victory.
It was then that Cheprot, with Kiplagat Kirui, Edward Waweru, Patrick Mutunga, Stephen Ogari, Peter Mwololo and Nelson Kosgei accompanying him, made a surge which split the group, and by the bell, the winner had managed to open a marginal gap.
As they came for the final 600m, Cheprot (23:05) delivered a clinical injection of pace that forced Kirui (23:57), Waweru (23:30), Mwololo (23:36), Mutunga (23:40), Kosgei (23:43) and Ogari (23:58) to accept positions two to seven respectively.
“I lost my way to Kangundo and found myself in Machakos (some 60km away) where I left this morning to make it here having left Mount Elgon (over 600km) yesterday (Friday) and (so) to win here is great,” Cheprot added.
Junior women 6km race
With three top-ten finishers from Bydgoszcz lining-up for the start, the first event in the day’s programme was not difficult to call. The only thing in doubt was the internal finishing order among bronze winner, Esther Chemtai, fourth placer Faith Chepng’etich and Alice Aprot, the niece to World Cross senior men’s champion, Joseph Ebuya, who placed ninth in Poland.
Being the first out on rain soaked course, the top junior girls opted to remove their running shoes, an action aped by most of the other 45 girls who lined besides them for the start.
It did not take long for their finesse over the field to show as they ran in a group for all of 1.5km before detaching themselves from the supporting cast. Like in Bydgoszcz, the trio ran as a team until the final loop where Chepng’etich surged forward taking Chemtai with her. Another break from the St Mary’s Bomet pupil in the final 200m stretch upset Chemtai as Chepng’etich sealed a 19:26 victory against her main opponent’s 19:27, with Aprot a further three seconds in arrears.
“It was very muddy and we decided to remove our shoes since they would have stuck here but we are all pleased with what we have done today,” said Chemtai, who assumed the role of a spokesperson.
Tala hotbed of running talent
Amid those in the crowd was record five-time Honolulu Marathon titleholder, Jimmy ‘Honolulu’ Muindi and 2006 World Junior silver winner and 2009 World finalist over 800m, Jackson Kivuva who hail from Tala.
“It’s good to see cross-country back here after such a long time since this is where almost all good runners from this region come from,” Kivuva mused.
Berlin Marathon champion, Patrick Makau, three-time Boston Marathon titleholder Cosmas Ndeti, twice Honolulu and 2007 Chicago winner, Patrick Ivuti and twice World Junior steeplechase champ, Jonathan Muia Ndiku are among other luminaries from the Eastern Kenya athletics hotbed of Tala.
The series where the top six finishers in every category score points towards a share of the KSh1m ($12,500) jackpot moves to Kipkelion next Saturday (November 13).
Mutwiri Mutuota (The Standard) for the IAAF
1. Timothy Kiptoo 34:52
2. John Mwangangi 35:20
3. Richard Ndegwa 35:30
4. Abraham Yano 35:30
5. David Makala 35:46
6. Victor Chelongoi 35:47
7. Stephen Arita 36:02
8. Martin Mukule 36:04
9. Bernard Mureithi 36:07
10. Juma Kangongo 36:13
8Km Senior Women
1. Pauline Njeri 27:06
2. Margaret Wangari 27:15
3. Eunice Mumbua 27:29
4. Annah Wanjiru 27:51
5. Alice Mogire 28:01
6. Winfridah Kwamboka 28:14
7. Beatrice Chepngeno 28:31
8. Ndungu Masila 28:31
9. Antonina Ruto 28:50
10. Mary Wangari 29:10
Junior Men 8Km
1. Simon Cheprot 23:05
2. Kiplagat Kirui 23:17
3. Edward Waweru 23:30
4. Peter Mwololo 23:36
5. Patrick Mutunga 23:40
6. Nelson Kosgei 23:43
7. Stephen Ogari 23:58
8. Enoch Omwambi 24:00
9. Daniel Muiva 24:04
10. John Githaiga 24:08
6Km Junior Women
1. Faith Chepng’etich 19:26
2. Esther Chemtai 19:27
3. Alice Aprot 19:30
4. Chemweno Nahum 19:56
5. Mercy Tabon 20:12
6. Rose Maraga 20:16
7. Rosemary Wanjiku 20:18
8. Perinsi Wakabana 20:29
9. Pauline Eapan 20:32
10. Joyce Wasugu 20:35