After a stellar junior career, Isiah ‘Chairman’ Kiplangat Koech celebrated a winning start to his senior cross country career with a classy victory in the men 12km event at the 3rd KCB/AK National Cross Country weekend meeting in Embu on Saturday (19).
The 2009 World Youth 3000m champion was joined on the winner’s rostrum by Winfridah Kwamboka (women 8km senior), Africa Cross titleholder, Japheth Korir (junior men 8km) and Zipporah Njeri in the junior 6km race.
With some 650 runners lining for the start, the course that extended to both Kangaru Boys’ and Girls’ High Schools offered the athletes an alternate elevation and flat route set on punishing altitude but refreshingly they were edged on vociferously by the students of the institutions.
The weather too oscillated like the course with spells of sunshine and overcast crowds across the four races at the meeting where new names added their interest in the series jackpot.
Koech in roaring triumph
In a meet that served-up three intriguing races on the day, Isiah Kiplangat Koech, who has been announced recently as the inaugural holder of the World Junior Indoor records for 3000m and 5000m, arrived unannounced in the Eastern Kenyan town, 200km from the capital Nairobi, but left as the headline story thanks to a tactical display of running which saw him romp home to a 36:02.28 victory.
“This was my first time as a senior (xc) runner and I did not know whether to sprint away from them or stay with the group,” said Koech, who was fourth at the World championship in Daegu over 5000m. “I was expecting a top six finish but at the bell, I realised I had the strength to go for it and when the chance came, I broke away.”
“I’m so delighted with the victory and I can now focus on making the Kenyan team for the next Africa World Cross but I admit it will be harder as a senior,” said Koech who was only tenth in the junior race at the World Cross Country Championships in Punta Umbria in March.
In the absence of Nicholas Togom, another graduating junior who has won the event in the opening two meets of Tala and Chepkoilel, Africa Cross Champion, John Mwangangi and the rejuvenated 2009 Amman World Cross competitor, Linus Chumba who was the bridesmaid in the opener, were the listed favourites.
But arriving late for registration was Koech and the matrix changed immediately that his powerful frame lined up for the start. After the first 2km loop, Koech who was the third quickest in the world this year at the track 5000m (12:54.18), was marginally trailing the early leader, Wilson Too.
A group of 12 that thinned to eight at 6km before it further reduced to five that challenged for the top honours at the bell, produced an absorbing last lap. Koech, the Kenya Police runner, had to contend in outwitting four Kenya Defence Force athletes for the gold with Chumba, Lewis Nyariki, Reuben Limaar and Simon Ndirangu.
To the crowds delight, the lead changed hands at a frequency faster than batons in a relay race right up to the last 600m. That was when Koech made his attack with a devastating turn of pace that determined the final positions - Koech (36:02.2), Linus Chumba (36:05.0), Lewis Nyariki (36:06.0) and Limaar (36:10.0) with early leader Too (36:33.6) in sixth.
Mwangangi (36:55.3) had a race to forget after coming ninth.
Kwamboka in photo finish advantage
The women’s senior race saw Winfridah Kwamboka and Gladys Cherono owning the competition from 3km, and in the final 100m engage in a flying finish that took judges to decide the winner.
With the tape in full view, Kwamboka, who returned 2:31:33 on her full marathon debut on 29 October in Nairobi, thought she had done enough to sew up the race after maintaining a gap of 50m from her rival for the most part of the second half of it.
Cherono though had other ideas as she pulled level with 50m to go, edge ahead by the thickness of a vest as Kwamboka fought back. The excitement caused the finish to be crowded as the pair arrived together at the tape and judges were called in.
The timers returned 28:03.7 against 28:04.0 in favour of the former Nyeri Half Marathon winner who said her intention was to prepare for a faster marathon next season. “It was very difficult today and after leading for so long, I saw her catch up with me close to the finish and I said to myself, let me give it a last push and it almost did not work,” the relieved Kwamboka added.
Tabitha Chelagat (28:25.0), Antoninah Ruto (28:29.8) and Millicent Gathoni (28:37.8) completed the top-five.
Korir finally nails it
The junior men’s 8km race where Korir, the 2010 World Cross bronze medal winner, also delivered a tense victory.
Having won both Tala and Chepkoilel legs, World Youth 3000m champion, William Sitonik was the overwhelming pre-race favourite.
From the opening 2km loop, Sitonik and Korir separated from the packed field before making the race an enthralling cat and mouse affair that was finally decided in the last 500m when the Bydgoszcz bronze medallist shifted the gears in a final bust that took him to the tape arms aloft in 23:47.1.
“It’s been a long time coming and I’m so thrilled it happened. After finishing fourth in Tala and second last week in Eldoret, I adjusted my training to deal with him and I felt comfortable through out,” the winner remarked.
“Today I was not feeling at my best and when he went, I could not recover. I’m confident in continuing the good performances and my aim is to win the World Juniors next year,” the Lille World Youth champion added.
Behind the charged pair, Johana Maina (24:07.0) took bronze with Ernest Ngeno (24:09.6), John Kariuki (24:15.2) and Bernard Muia (24:19.8) following suit.
Wanjiru takes the bouquet
Africa Cross Country bronze winner, Zipporah Wanjiru who was beaten into third in the opening meet in Tala, Kangundo, found the strength in legs to fashion a dominant victory in the junior women’s 8km run.
After being compelled to take bronze in Tala, the Nyahururu based Form 2 student at Mungetho Secondary School ensured she took all the plaudits when she destroyed the assembled field for victory in 21:06.0 in the women’s junior 6km run.
“For now, my focus is to return to the Africa Cross country and hopefully the year after that, making the World Cross that I missed this year. I came prepared to run fast and the course and weather helped me,” she offered as Pauline Njeri (21:25.3), Pauline Eapan (21:35.1), Nancy Nzisa (21:37.6) and Nancy Gathure (21:45.6) trailed the leader home in that order.
Mutwiri Mutuota for the IAAF
Junior women’s 6km
1. Zipporah Njeri 21:06.0, 2. Pauline Njeri 21:25.3, 3. Pauline Eapan 21:35.1, 4. Nancy Nzisa 21:37.6, 5. Nancy Kathure 21:45.6, 6. Eunice Lucia 21:49.6, 7. Rosemary Mbula 22:09.4, 8. Caroline Kawira 22:14.7, 9. Vaati Ndolo 22:24.0, 10. Lydia Karegi.
Junior men’s 8km
1. Japheth Korir 23:47.1, 2. William Sitonik 23:57.8, 3. Johana Maina 24:07.0, 4. Ernest Ngeno 24:09.6, 5. John Kariuki 24:15.2, 6. Bernard Muia 24:19.8, 7. Peter Matheka 24:33.1, 8. Paul Kamais 24:33.3, 9. Joseph Kamathi 24:33.7, 10. John Maweu 24:51.0.
Senior women’s 8km
1. Winfridah Kwamboka 28:03.7, 2. Gladys Cherono 28:04.0, 3. Tabitha Chelagat 28:25.0, 4. Antoninah Ruto 28:29.8, 5. Millicent Gathoni 28:37.8, 6. Ann Wabera 28:54.0, 7. Mary Ann Wangari 29:01.2, 8. Jane Wanja 29:22.6, 9. Albania Muiru 29:32.1, 10. Jane Chelagat 29:33.0.
Senior men’s 12km
1. Isiah Kiplangat Koech 36:02.2, 2. Linus Chumba 36:05.0, 3. Lewis Nyariki 36:06.0, 4. Reuben Limaar 36:10.0, 5. Simon Ndirangu 36 :18.12, 6. Wilson Too 36:33.6, 7. Peter Mateelong 36 :51.1, 8. Shadrack Kosgei 36 :54.4, 9. John Mwangangi 36:55.3, 10. Robert Langat 37:21.2