Former world junior 10,000m bronze medallist Geoffrey Kirui and Selah Busienei upset the established order at the 35th running of the Kenya Defence Forces Cross Country meeting in the outskirts of Nairobi Friday (16).
The event, held on an uncustomary day, ushered the next phase of Kenya’s preparations for the IAAF World Cross Country in Guiyang as disciplined institutions and regional Athletics Kenya affiliates take centre stage in selecting their teams for next month’s National Championships and Trials.
Kahawa Barracks hosted the forces showdown on a dry, relatively flat course in baking conditions.
Kirui topples Kiptoo
Evergreen Frankfurt Marathon champion Mark Kiptoo’s bid to reclaim the crown he last held in 2013 came unstuck in the senior men’s 12km long race when Kirui, a 15th-place finisher at the 2013 World Cross in Bydgoszcz, uncorked a sudden turn of speed in the homestretch to carry the honours in 35:58.
Kiptoo, who was opening his season, followed him home two seconds adrift but comfortably ahead of last year’s surprise victor, Leonard Oloitiptip (36:06) to close the podium in what developed into a three-way battle for the win.
Kirui took to the front at the 4km mark as top draws including former world junior cross-country silver medallist Vincent Chepkok fell victim to his hard running, falling off the reckoning as the race progressed.
On the final 2km loop, Kiptoo and Oloitiptip had managed to reel in the leader to leave the showdown wide open but the final twist came when Kirui opened up a searing pace that floored his main challengers.
Kiplimo Kimutai, a member of the Kenyan team for the 2009 IAAF World Half Marathon Championships in Birmingham, finished fourth in 36:10 ahead of 2013 World Championships 5000m competitor John Kipkoech (36:14) and Arita Stephen (36:27).
“I can’t believe I have beaten these strong runners, though I woke in good form,” said Kirui. “I had trained well and that’s why I could keep up the high pace.”
“I could not outsmart these young athletes,” said 38-year-old Kiptoo. “If I get selected for the World Championships, I will keep focus as usual.
“Here I competed with Kirui, who is 15 years younger than me, but I tell you age counts for nothing. It’s just about experience and preparation as well as focus and commitment. Anyone can win irrespective of age.”
Busienei’s coup over Cherono
World half-marathon champion Gladys Cherono was undoubtedly the star attraction in the corresponding women’s 8km race but in Selah Busienei, she came up against an in-form athlete on the domestic cross-country circuit who ultimately toppled her from the throne of the forces crown.
Busienei, a 1500m finalist at last year’s African Championships and Commonwealth Games, took 26:26 to take the biggest scalp for her maiden forces title, having tasted victory in Machakos last month.
Pounding the Kahawa course with determined purpose, she was simply unstoppable as she came home ahead of Cherono (26:26) and New York Marathon runner-up Jemimah Sumgong who was two minutes adrift to populate the rostrum.
“This is my year; watch out,” said Busienei. “I have been doing 300m intervals to sharpen my speed and now I’m targeting the World Cross Country Championships.”
Cherono said she was gauging her speed ahead her marathon debut in Dubai next week while Sumgong is preparing for April’s London Marathon.
Korir back to winning ways at county champs
World cross-country champion Japhet Korir launched his bid to defend his title in two months’ time in the Chinese city of Guiyang by thrilling the locals at his Kericho backyard with victory in one of the various Athletics Kenya (AK) County Cross Country meetings over the weekend.
Korir beat 1:01:36 half marathon runner Isaac Langat and 2010 world junior 5000m champion David Bett over 12km for his first victory this winter following third and second-place finishes in Alcobendas and Edinburgh.
In-form Sheila Chepngetich, the world junior 1500m bronze medallist who has taken the local series by storm, was the unsurprising victor in the corresponding 8km women’s long race. In the junior races, Davis Kiplangat and Irvine Chepkemoi raced to Kericho honours in the men’s 8km and women’s 6km respectively.
Over in Uasin Gishu, Spencer Maiyo clocked 34:35 to win the men’s 12km senior race with Nelly Koech (27:21) taking the women’s 8km senior run. Fredrick Kipkosgei and Winnie Koima won the men’s 8km and women’s 6km junior races in 23:06 and 20:13 respectively.
Mutwiri Mutuota (Capital FM) for the IAAF
Leading results from Nairobi
1 Geoffrey Kirui 35:58
2 Mark Kiptoo 36:00
3 Leonard Oloitiptip 36:06
4 Kiplimo Kimutai 36:10
5 John Chepkwony 36:14
6 Arita Stephen 36:27
7 Wilson Maraba 36:37
8 Linus Chumba 36:40
1 Sela Jepleting Busienei 26:26
2 Gladys Cherono 26:26
3 Jemimah Chelagat 26:48
4 Veronica Nyaruai 27:06
5 Doris Changeiywo 27:13
6 Fridah Mwikali 27:26
7 Perin Nenkampi 27:33
8 Pauline Chemining 27:36