Celliphine Chespol and Alfred Barkach secured a Kenyan double in the senior races at the African Cross Country Championships in the Algerian city of Chlef on Saturday (17).
Their compatriot Rhonex Kipruto won the U20 men’s race, but Kenya didn’t completely dominate as Ethiopia’s Girmawit Gebregziabher won the U20 women’s title and Ethiopia ended the day by winning the mixed relay.
Chespol, who is still just 18 years old, was part of a large lead pack of 16 women that covered the first two-kilometre lap in 7:37. The group had been reduced to 13 women by the end of the second lap, with Ethiopia’s Guangzhou marathon champion Rahma Tusa Chota leading the group through in 14:39.
Of the 10 women still in the lead pack at the end of the third lap, reached in 21:36, six of them were Kenyan. Chespol had compatriots Margaret Chelimo, Rosemary Njeri, Stacy Ndiwa, Perine Nengampi and Sandra Chebet for company as they ran alongside Ethiopian trio Chota, Yeshi Kalayu Chekole and Enatnesh Alamirew and Uganda’s Stella Chesang.
But Chespol didn’t hang around for much longer and opened up a 17-second lead on the penultimate lap. Some distance behind the steeplechase world U20 record-holder, Njeri, Chekole and Chelimo were battling for what appeared to be the two other spots on the podium.
Although Chespol’s leading margin was reduced to just three seconds on the final lap, she did enough to win, clocking 35:10 for the 10km event. Chelimo came through for second place in 35:13 with Chekole taking third in 35:26.
Njeri faded in the closing stages, but Ndiwa and Chebet finished fourth and sixth respectively, securing the team title for Kenya.
Barkach wins in thrilling finish
The senior men’s race was even closer.
The initial lead pack may have been larger than in the women’s contest, but the attrition happened earlier in the race with the top four contenders making a break at the half-way stage.
After a pack of about 29 men covered the first lap in 6:39, there were still 19 men in contention by the end of the second lap, reached in 12:49, as Kenya’s Emmanuel Bor led from Ugandan duo Thomas Ayeko and Philip Kipyeko.
But Alfred Barkach and Julius Kogo suddenly emerged as the leading Kenyan contenders as they joined Uganda’s Ayeko and Kipyeko and Ethiopian cross-country champion Enyew Mekonnen to form a breakaway lead pack.
Kipyeko was the first of the quintet to fall behind, leaving four men to battle it out for three medals as they entered the final lap. Mekonnen was ultimately unable to keep up with his opponents; in the frantic surge for the finish line, Barkach got the better of Kogo and Ayeko to take the title in 30:47.
Kogo and Ayeko were given the same time with Kogo being awarded the silver and Ayeko the bronze.
With Bor and John Chepkwony finishing in the top seven, Kenya once again picked up the team title. Uganda earned team silver, while Eritrea took bronze ahead of Ethiopia.
U20 titles for Kipruto and Gebregziabher
Following his convincing defeat at the recent Kenyan Cross Country Championships, Rhonex Kipruto gained revenge on compatriot Stanley Waithaka to take the U20 title in Chlef.
The race played into the hands of the big kickers. 16 men were still in the lead pack at half way and nine of those remained in the group as they approached the final lap. Kipruto proved to have the best strength, though, and opened up a five-second gap on Waithaka by the finish line, winning in 25:01.
Ethiopia’s Solomon Berihu took bronze in 25:08, while Kenya picked up another gold medal in the team contest.
Girmawit Gebregziabher may be a relative newcomer, but she is fast making a name for herself.
In the U20 women’s race in Chlef, the Ethiopian moved to the front of the lead pack at roughly half way, then went on to create a 14-second winning margin by the end, crossing the line in 20:40.
Just as she had done at the Ethiopian Cross Country Championships last month, teammate Tsige Gebreselama finished second to Gebregziabher while Kenya’s Hellen Ekalale was one second in arrears, taking bronze in 20:55.
Kenya may have missed out on individual honours in this race, but – with 18 points to Ethiopia’s 19 – they narrowly won team gold.
Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF