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Feature30 Mar 2014

Team work pays dividends for Kenya and Cherono


Gladys Cherono, Mary Wacera and Sally Chepyego at the 2014 IAAF World Half Marathon Championships in Copenhagen (© Getty Images)

The image of all five of the Kenyan team running in a line at the front of the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships women's race, eyes front, arms pumping in unison, will remain in the memory of all who witnessed it on what was, in all senses, a glorious day for running in Copenhagen on Saturday (29).

It was as precise a team operation as any put together by those who had competed on the same city streets three years earlier at the World Cycling Championships.

On that occasion, the diligent efforts of a dominent British team including Bradley Wiggins put Mark Cavendish in perfect position to launch his killing final sprint to victory.

As the women in red, black and green advanced towards the finish line outside the Danish Parliament buildings, with an estimated 200,000 spectators lining the course, the only question remaining was: which of them would advance to claim the medals, with their last rival, in the form of Ethiopia’s Netsanet Gudeta, drifting further from contention.

In the past, on roads and across country, Kenyan teams have established similar dominance to the point where they have effectively been able to allow their favoured, most meritorious runner to advance and claim gold.

A classic example occurred at the 1993 World Cross Country Championships in Spain, when, as the Kenyan men’s coach was happy to verify at the time, William Sigei, who was to go on and break the 10,000m world record the following year, was deemed the most deserving winner after all outside opposition had been dealt with.

In Copenhagen, as the eventual winner Gladys Cherono confirmed, there was no such plan in operation, despite the presence in the team of Lucy Wangui Kabuu, fastest half marathon runner in the world last year, who was to eventually finish fourth.

The plan that was in place related to the team competition, where the Kenyans were set on reclaiming the gold which had gone to Ethiopia in the last running of these championships, two years ago in the Bulgarian city of Kavarna.

Cherono, like her fellow Kenyan winner of the men’s race, Geoffrey Kipsang Kamworor, looked particularly dominant as a long-time front runner, her face set in concentration.

Yet the 30-year-old silver medallist from last year’s IAAF World Championship 10,000m in Moscow revealed afterwards that she was travelling as much in hope as expectation.

“I wasn’t expecting to win,” she said. “We ran as a team and we were told to talk to each other all the way. We came from number one to number five, and that was amazing. We did not want to leave anybody behind.

“When we got to 18 kilometres I saw that everybody was no longer having enough energy so I decided to push on and go ahead. I felt that I was still strong, so I decided to go.”

The next task now for a runner who won the 5000m and 10,000m at the 2012 African Championships is to prepare for the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow this summer.

She also confirmed that she would be running the 10,000m in Scotland, looking further ahead, she also confirmed her readiness to defend the title she had won so convincingly in two years’ time, when the event will be held in the British city of Cardiff.

“If I am selected,” she added, with her now familiar beaming smile.

Mike Rowbottom for the IAAF