Leonard Barsoton and Irene Cheptai captured the men’s and women’s senior titles at the Kenyan Cross Country Championships in Nairobi on Saturday (18).
With their victories today at the Uhuru Gardens Grounds, the pair, along with U20 winners Richard Kimunyan Yator and Sandra Chebet, will be leading the east African powerhouse at next month's IAAF World Cross Country Championships Kampala 2017.
First national title for Barsoton
The men's senior race saw Japan-based Barsoton, the U20 silver medalist at the 2013 World Cross Country Championships, surprise the field and take his first national title in strong fashion.
The race started at a steady pace with Vincent Rono and 2013 world cross-country champion Japhet Korir exchanging the early lead. The first break came shortly after half-way with Police trio Geoffrey Kamworor, Bedan Karoki and Barsoton gradually moving to the front. Nicholas Kosimbei, the 2014 world U20 10,000m bronze medallist, made a bold move with just over two laps remaining but Barsoton and Kamworor quickly responded and broke from the field.
With a lap to go it appeared to be down to Barsoton and world cross-country champion Kamworor – who resumed training less than two months ago – with Bedan Karoki leading the challenge. Barsoton forged on to a comfortable victory while Karoki closed quickly to overtake Kamworor at the line for second.
Behind the trio, early leader Rono finished fourth with 10km and 15km world record-holder Leonard Patrick Komon making a notable comeback to finish fifth and punch his ticket to Kampala. Newcomer Leonard Lagat from Keringet finished sixth and will represent Kenya for the first time in his career.
Cheptai overpowers loaded field
The senior races opened with a competitive women's contest. As all the favorites watched each other for the first two kilometres, African cross-country champion Alice Aprot decided to take the leader’s role and upped the pace.
A high quality group formed behind her, including Olympic 1500m champion Faith Kipyegon, 5000m specialist Cheptai, fast-rising Lilian Kasait, Police champion Caroline Chepkoech and world steeplechase champion Hyvin Kiyeng. By six kilometres the group was reduced to four with Cheptai, Kasait, Kipyegon and Aprot building a small gap.
Kasait, the 2013 world U18 3000m champion, led for most of the last two kilometres only to be outsprinted by Cheptai in the last 50 metres.
Kipyegon finished third while Aprot, world cross-country champion Agnes Tirop and Kiyeng claimed the final qualifying spots.
Chebet and Kimunyan take U20 titles
The competition kicked off under pleasant conditions with the women’s U20 6km race. After a conservative opening lap, Nairobi teammates Sandra Chebet and world U20 steeplechase champion Celliphine Chespol began to push the pace. A lead pack of 20 was soon whittled down to six with the full South Rift region squad of Mirriam Cherop, Sheila Chelangat, Joyline Cherotich and Emaculate Chepkirui following in that order.
With less than two kilometres remaining, Chebet upped the tempo to run away to a commanding victory. Chespol was next across the line but there was drama on her heels when Cherop, the African junior cross country champion, collapsed 350 metres from the finish. That left the final Kampala team spots for Chelangat, Chepkirui, Cherotich and newcomer Esther Muthoni.
Conversely, the men’s U20 contest got off to a quick start, with Wesley Ledama and Richard Yator, respectively the 2016 world U20 5000m bronze medallist and 2015 world U18 3000m champion, taking command. A group of 14 quickly formed reducing the pace until the five-kilometre mark when Ledama again upped the tempo to break up the group.
Only Yator, Ronald Kirui, high-schooler Nicholas Kimeli and Edwin Kiplagat were able to respond. Waiting patiently, Yator pulled away for good with 400 metres to go to kick to his seven-second victory.
Ledama, who did most of the leading, was beaten to third by fast-closing Meshak Kyuguti who surprised the field with an impressive closing kilometre.
Kiplagat, world U20 steeplechase champion Amos Kirui and Ronald Kirui finished fourth through sixth to claim their team spots.
Kip Evans for the IAAF
1 Leonard Barsoton 28:56
2 Bedan Karoki 29:02
3 Geoffrey Kamworor 29:03
4 Vincent Rono 29:06
5 Leonard Komon 29:09
6 Leonard Lagat 29:14
1 Irene Cheptai 31:48
2 Lilian Kasait 31:51
3 Faith Kipyegon 32:13
4 Alice Aprot 32:19
5 Agnes Tirop 32:47
6 Hyvin Kiyeng 32:52
U20 men (8km)
1 Richard Kimunyan 23:03
2 Meshak Kyuguti 23:10
3 Wesley Ladema 23:13
4 Edwin Kiplagat 23:15
5 Amos Kirui 23:17
6 Ronald Kirui 23:22
U20 women (6km)
1 Sandra Chebet 19:25
2 Celliphine Chespol 19:47
3 Sheila Chelangat 19:50
4 Emmaculate Chepkirui 19:52
5 Joyline Cheoritch 19:54
6 Hellen Elkalale 19:57