Tirunesh Dibaba (ETH) follows Isabella Ochichi (KEN) - 2005 World Cross Country (Getty Images) © Copyright
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Ochichi, fifth time lucky in Fukuoka? – World Cross Country Championships

Kenya's Isabella Ochichi, the 2004 Olympic women’s 5000m silver medallist, is having a busy couple of weeks. On Friday (24) she contests the 5000m track final at the 18th Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, Australia, and then she will turn her attention to the 34th IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Fukuoka, Japan (1- 2 April), in which she has been entered to contest the short race (2).

Ochichi, 26, was the short race bronze medallist in St-Etienne/St-Galmier, France last year, leading home the Kenyan squad to a silver medal finish a tantalizing one point (18 to 19) adrift of the Ethiopians. The day before she had also taken on the long race, finishing a respectable fifth, and capturing another team silver.

Yet on a team and individual level in 2005, there was only one true success story for Kenya, the men’s junior race in which their runners took the first five places. Besides that the whole weekend was a green vested party for their East African neighbours, Ethiopia, who took all the individual race golds and the other five team titles.

In 2006, of the two senior and one junior women’s races, it is again the senior short race which provides the most potential for Kenyan success, as Ochichi will be joined in Fukuoka by Priscah Jepleting, who followed her home four seconds adrift in fourth place last year. Jepleting was the national trials winner at the beginning of March. Also on the team for Japan are Beatrice Rutto and Beatrice Jepchumba, who were second and third respectively in that qualification meeting.

That race was not Ochichi’s day, as finishing fifth she suffered her biggest ever defeat at home. However, the athlete who was 6th and 8th in the last two World Championship 5000m track finals was not concerned, confirming that she was heavy legged due to the hard training she was doing in preparation for her medal campaigns in Australia and Japan.

“I have got the endurance that I wanted and I can assure you medals in Melbourne and Fukuoka,” said Ochichi, who is a police officer, to a concerned Kenyan media pack.

Ochichi has been pounding away at the World Cross Country short race title for the last four years. Fukuoka will be her fifth and final chance for gold, as next year the programme of the championships, which take place in Kenya, will go back to one day, and with it the short race will be dropped.

Third in 2002, fourth in 2003, fifth in 2004, and third last year, Ochichi remains focussed on a World Cross title. To succeed she must of course defeat the reigning World Cross Country short and long race champion Tirunesh Dibaba of Ethiopia, who was six seconds quicker than her over the short race last year. Yet perhaps the additional task she has set herself in Melbourne might be just the fine tuning and sharpening she requires to both unlock the gold for both herself individually, and with her teammates, who last took the short race team title in 2003.

Chris Turner for the IAAF