Ishmael Kipkirui wins the U20 men's title in Bathurst (© Getty Images)
Twelve years had passed since a Kenyan athlete last won the U20 men’s title, but Ishmael Kipkirui ended his country’s drought by claiming gold at the World Athletics Cross Country Championships Bathurst 23.
For good measure, he also led Kenya to gold in the team competition, avenging their losses in 2019 and 2017.
For most of the race, though, it was difficult to predict which way it was going to go. A large pack of about 20 athletes formed on the opening lap, and it had been whittled down to 15 men on lap two.
Uganda’s Dan Kibet, a two-time world U20 finalist at 3000m, led the pack at that stage, but Kipkirui and world U20 1500m champion Reynold Cheruiyot were close behind. Uganda had three athletes in the top five at that stage, but because they only had three starters in the race, it wasn’t enough to feature in the team standings.
Another five men dropped out of the lead group on the third lap, but Kibet, Kipkirui and Cheruiyot remained at the front, while Ethiopia’s Boki Diriba was tucked in the middle of the pack. The third lap was covered in 6:00, the fastest of the race so far.
In the final kilometre, four men broke away – Kipkirui, Cheruiyot, Diriba and Kibet – and very little separated the quartet as they charged down the penultimate downhill section. As they turned the corner to negotiate the tyres, Kipkirui edged ahead and kept his opponents at bay while they zig-zagged through the obstacles.
Kibet lost ground on the other three before they went round the final bend. Once they entered the finishing straight, Cheruiyot set out in pursuit of Diriba, and eventually passed the Ethiopian, but Kipkirui could not be caught.
Kipkirui crossed the finish line in 24:29, one second ahead of his Kenyan teammate while Diriba took bronze in 24:31. Kibet wound up fourth in 24:36.
The team contest was as close as the individual one with Kenya taking gold by a one-point margin from Ethiopia. USA, led by Leo Young, took team bronze – their first team medal in the U20 men’s contest since 1982.
“The course at the training camp where I have been with the Kenyan team has the same kind of bends that we ran through, especially the corners and we practice those angles,” said Kipkirui. “That helped me to win in the end.”
Before today, the last Kenyan man to win the world U20 cross-country title was Geoffrey Kamworor, who went on to win two senior titles.
Jon Mulkeen for World Athletics
|U20 MEN'S MEDALLISTS|
|🥇||Ishmael Kipkirui 🇰🇪 KEN||24:29|
|🥈||Reynold Cheruiyot 🇰🇪 KEN||24:30|
|🥉||Boki Diriba 🇪🇹 ETH||24:31|