Mercy Cherono (second from right) on her way to winning World Junior cross country gold in Bydgoszcz (© Getty Images)
Mercy Cherono said she thought that the selection of Bydgoszcz for the World Cross Country Championships would be a favourable omen for her. It was here that the 18-year-old Kenyan won the 3000 metres at the 2008 World Junior Championships.
Even Cherono could not have dreamed how favourable it would prove to be. She got the 38th IAAF World Cross Country Championships off to the best possible start for Kenya, not only winning the junior women’s race by a resounding margin, but also leading her team to a sweep of the first four places and a perfect 1-2-3-4=10 score.
Collectively and individually defending champion Ethiopia was confounded. Genzebe Dibaba, bidding for a third consecutive victory, finished a distant 11th. The Ethiopian challenge had been blown away when Cherono led her team-mates clear at the start of the final 2km loop of the Myslecinek Park course.
Then, Cherono was at the head of a group of four Kenyans - the others Purity Rionoripo, Esther Chemtai and Faith Chepngetich - but by half-way through the lap she was gloriously alone. At the final turn into the finish straight, she looked around for rivals. There were none. Even a more thorough examination would have revealed only Kenyan vests in sight.
Cherono officially won by seven seconds, clocking 18:47 for the approximately 6km distance. In truth, she won as she liked. She was not surprised she said, she just followed the team coach’s instructions on when to push.
“In the second lap, I had a lot left,” she said with a smile. Asked if she expected the Ethiopians to have been closer, she shrugged and smiled again.
It must have been particularly satisfying to have put Dibaba so comprehensively behind her. Twelve months ago in Amman, Cherono had also pulled clear in the final lap. Approaching the final climb, she had a substantial break on Dibaba, and no doubt it would have been on any normal course. But Dibaba caught and passed her Kenyan rival on the steep hill to the finish, winning by some three seconds.
So Bydgoszcz, as well as affirming a positive feeling for the place where she won her World Junior Championships, was also the site for revenge. This time there was no final comeback from Dibaba.
Behind Cherono, Rionoripo, who was wearing spikes, won a desperate sprint with the barefoot Chemtai to take the silver medal narrowly. Chepngetich completed the sweep of the first four places, prevailing over Genet Yalew of Ethiopia by one second.
Far from a third title, Dibaba closed out the scoring Ethiopian team in 11th place, 34 seconds behind the winner.
It was a day for thwarting hat-tricks. Not only was Dibaba denied, but Kenya’s easy victory in the teams race deprived Ethiopia of a third straight title.
Uganda completed an East African sweep, Annet Negesa, Rebecca Cheptegei, Viola Chemos and Linet Chebet combining to outlast perennial contender, Japan. Great Britain and the USA rounded out the first six teams.
Asian cross-country silver medallist Tejitu Daba of Bahrain in 10th place was the first non-East African finisher. She is Ethiopian-born, however. The first non-East African born finisher was Gulshat Fazlitdinova of Russia, the European junior cross-country silver medallist, in 16th place.
Emily Sisson of the USA (18th), Nanaka Izawa of Japan (19th) and Kate Avery of Britain (20th) rounded out the individual top 20.
Len Johnson for the IAAF