Faith Kipyegon wins at the Sirikwa Cross Country Classic (© Organisers)
Faith Kipyegon delighted fans with a dominant women’s race win, while Charles Lokir triumphed to take the men’s title at the Sirikwa Cross Country Classic – a World Athletics Cross Country Tour Gold event – at the Lobo village in Eldoret on Saturday (4).
The high altitude, hot weather and gusts of wind, which provided a bit of relief from the heat but raised some dust and resistance, meant conditions were challenging, leading to some interesting races.
In the women’s 10km event, Kipyegon put on a spectacular show of great form and strength after she overtook Jackline Chepkoech, who had taken an early lead, and continued to create a gap at the front.
With one lap to go, Kipyegon was around 400m ahead of the rest of the field and the multiple world and Olympic 1500m champion raced to the sound of loud cheering along the course, as fans celebrated their golden girl displaying a great run on home soil.
Kipyegon, who said during the pre-race press conference that she wasn’t under any pressure to win given the other strong women in the field, was more than a minute ahead of her rivals as she crossed the finish line in 33:50.
Chepkoech, the 2021 world U20 steeplechase gold medallist and 2022 Commonwealth Games champion, managed to maintain her second-place position throughout the race to finish in 34:52.
Zenah Jemutai Yego, the 2021 world U20 3000m silver medallist, finished third in 35:08.
The win for Kipyegon is confirmation that she has found the endurance she had been working on ahead of the track season, and that everything is going well in training.
“I am glad to be back,” she said. Asked in the pre-event press conference about her plans to go for the world 1500m record this year, she replied: “We shall go to the drawing board with my coach and see how we go towards the world record.”
The senior men’s 10km race, on the other hand, seemed to usher in a new crop of relatively new middle and long distance runners.
After exchanging the lead with a small group of contenders in the second half of the race, Lokir surprised his competitors with a well-calculated move on the last hill. Sprinting past, he rapidly grew a gap without looking back until he crossed the finish line in 30:14.
Charles Lokir celebrates his win at the Sirikwa Cross Country Classic (© Organisers)
Josephat Kiprotich followed him to take second place in 30:19, while Dennis Kipngetich, who had finished second at the national championships, was this time one place back and finished third in 30:21.
The reigning national champion and newly crowned Sirikwa Classic champion now focuses on the 10,000m, an event in which he hopes to qualify to represent Kenya at the World Championships in Budapest later this year.
The winner of the men’s U20 8km was also a newly crowned national champion.
Just like he did at the national championships, Samuel Kibathi Wanjiru comfortably won in an almost repeat performance of that race two weeks ago. Running alone in the final stages, he crossed the finish line in 24:20, 20 seconds ahead of Kelvin Kiprop. Gideon Kipngetich was a further five seconds back.
Lucy Nduta won the women’s U20 race after sprinting ahead of Maurine Jepkoech in the last 500m of the race, as the latter tried vainly to keep up with her. The two had been running shoulder to shoulder ahead of the rest over the last lap of the 2km loop. Nduta eventually finished in 21:13, just one second ahead of Jepkoech. Debora Jemutai finished third in 21:41.
In another successful event, thousands of local fans turned up to watch current stars in action and meet some legendary runners. They were also able to learn about the cultural heritage of the region, where men and women dressed in traditional attire showed off instruments used in the past, and shared dances and music.
Justin Lagat for World Athletics