In the battle of East Africa, and with an impressive start-to-finish victory, Agnes Tirop brought home Kenya’s 300th IAAF World Cross Country Championships medal and became the youngest senior women's winner since Zola Budd in 1985 when taking the honours in Guiyang on Saturday (28).
Still only 19, the 2013 junior women’s silver medallist and two-time world junior 5000m bronze medallist on the track went out strongly, not intimidated in the slightest by the likes of two-time world cross-country champion Emily Chebet and a strong set of Ethiopian runners as she triumphed by a five-second margin in 26:01.
“I am very happy to have won Kenya’s 300th medal,” Tirop said after her landmark victory. “I was trying to push the pace from the start. I had no fear, I was just trying to run my own race.”
Ethiopia’s Senbere Teferi, just a few months older than her Kenyan rival, was the only one to challenge Tirop as the remaining athletes slowly dropped away one after another, leaving the two 19-year-olds as the last two contenders for the gold medal.
Teferi eventually had to accept defeat in the final 200 metres of the race, crossing the line in 26:06, five seconds clear of her compatriot Netsanet Gudeta in third.
“The Ethiopian (Teferi) tried to overtake me and tried to push me to get away, but I was strong and managed to hold on,” added Tirop.
During the first lap of the 8010m race, the field was still huddled together but it quickly turned into a two-horse race – on the former horse racing circuit on the outskirts of the southern Chinese city – with regards to the team standings as the leading pack of 12 solely consisted of six Kenyan and six Ethiopian runners.
In the end, it was Ethiopia who came out on top, with just two points separating the two nations, 17 points to the Kenyans’ 19 to end their five-year winning streak in this category.
East African neighbours Uganda, the host country for the 2017 championships which will take place in the capital Kampala, took third place for their first ever senior women’s medals, either in the individual race or in the team contest.
Ethiopia’s Alemitu Heroye came home fourth to also get the better of defending champion Chebet.
Chebet ended up in sixth place with 26:18, struggling in the final few hundred metres and overtaken by compatriot Stacy Ndiwa as the line loomed.
Eritrea’s Nazret Weldu came home 11th in 27:19 to be the first woman from outside Ethiopia or Kenya to cross the line while Spain’s Tirhas Gebre finished 15th, making her the highest-ranked European athlete.
Just behind the Spaniard, local hopeful Ding Changqin put in a courageous race to finish as the top Asian runner in 16th place, an impressive performance just six days after running a personal best of 2:26:54 to win the Chinese marathon title.
It also earned the charismatic Ding, watched by many friends and family as she hails from Guiyang, arguably the loudest cheers of the day.
Throughout the race, Ding was kept company by compatriot Zhang Xinyan, who had won both the short and long-course races at the Chinese Cross Country Championships earlier this winter.
Zhang’s 17th position meant a fourth place for the Chinese women’s team, six points ahead of the USA, the hosts’ best result of the day.
Challenging the two Chinese athletes were Great Britain’s European cross-country champion Gemma Steel and European under-23 gold medallist Rhona Auckland, finishing 18th and 19th respectively with USA’s Sara Hall closing out the top 20.
Michelle Sammet for the IAAF