Bedan Karoki leads the senior men's race (© David Ogeka / Photo Run)
World cross-country champion Japhet Korir was the biggest casualty of the meeting after being forced down the finishing order while two-time world cross-country champion Emily Chebet had to rely on a wildcard selection as Kenya named a provisional squad of 26 for next month’s IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Guiyang.
The junior races served their own thrilling tales, particularly the men’s 8km rumble that saw Dominic Kiptarus, the 19-year-old brother of 800m Olympian Anthony Chemut, edge a five-way mad dash for the finish with only two seconds separating them as Rosefline Chepngetich fulfilled her favourite role in the corresponding women’s 6km event.
Baking conditions took their toll as the day progressed as established names perished in the dry mostly flat course that was watered before the start to make a soft underfoot.
With the focus on Korir and the star-studded Kenya Police team as the show-stopping 12km senior men’s showdown beckoned, it was Japan-based Bedan Karoki who achieved the rare feat of holding on to the national title. The defending champion unleashed a powerful kick to the tape over the last 800m to stop the clock in 35:08.
Karoki prevailed over world half-marathon champion Geoffrey Kamworor (35:19) with African cross-country champion Leonard Barsoton (35:28) rounding out the podium.
“The race was tough but I gave myself the belief I could do something,” said Karoki, who declined the chance to compete at the African Cross Country Championships after winning the national title last year. “This time, I will not let the opportunity go; I have enough stamina and I know I will do well in China. Sometimes, I speak to (John) Ngugi who tells me cross country is the best build up and I hope I will become the next runner from Nyahururu after him to win the World Cross.”
Karoki, who hails from the same region as five-time winner John Ngugi, showed amazing powers of recovery after a stomach acid infection last month meant he could not train for two weeks.
“For the first three weeks, I did not feature in any race,” he added. “I had almost given up hope, but after recovering I stepped up training and I knew if I was still within at the last kilometre, then I would give it my all.”
African junior cross-country champion and world junior 5000m bronze medallist Moses Mukono (35:51) graduated to the senior ranks in style by clinching the last automatic selection place just outside the podium with Phillip Langat (35:55) and Joseph Kiptum (36:02) wrapping the top six who made the Guiyang team.
As other luminaries melted in the intensity of pressure and all around Uhuru Gardens, Faith Kipyegon once again had an obstructed view of the finish after edging an intense encounter of wits, hard front running and tact against the determined Agnes Tirop, the world junior 5000m bronze medallist, with another display of her devastating finishing kick over the last 600m that brought her home in 26:24.
“We had many juniors who had graduated to senior and I struggled until I was able to win,” said Kipyegon, winner of the past two junior world cross-country titles. “I was not expecting to win because everyone was strong. At the bell there were 10 and it came down to individual strength and who could run for it. I’m happy I made it.”
Tirop, who last year succeeded Kipyegon as the African junior cross-country champion, came home just a second shy of the winner in a race where the top six finishers represented Kenya at the World Cross as juniors between 2009 and 2013.
“Having come from running 6km, I did not even believe I could make the team,” said Tirop, who finished right behind Kipyegon in the junior race at the 2013 World Cross. “I will not fear running against seniors; it just means I should step up training. There’s no big difference between running 8km and 6km. I come from a sunny place and trained there so the heat here did not affect me at all.”
Commonwealth silver medallist Janet Kisa (26:30), Irene Chebet (26:32), Alice Aprot (26:34) and Stacy Ndiwa (26:43) rounded the top six who were named to the World Cross squad with world cross-country champion Chebet (27:20) being forced down to 14th but given wildcard selection.
“The coaches will determine whom to drop from the seven after training since we will only carry six,” said Athletics Kenya vice president David Okeyo.
Kiptarus comes of age
Dominic Kiptarus was watching on television when his village-mate and friend from Kericho, Korir, made history by winning the World Cross in 2013. A year before, his elder sibling Anthony Chemut had urged him to accompany him to training after breaking into the Kenyan Olympic team for London.
As they stretched on Saturday morning on the sidelines of the course, Korir told his younger friend: “Don’t go in front and don’t stay at the back. Stay within the leaders and when the time comes, go for it.”
Heeding his advice, Kiptarus emerged from the finishing heap victorious as five athletes came shoulder to shoulder for the honours in the most astonishing of finishes that had the sparse crowd to their feet in 23:34.
John Langat (23:34), Alfred Ngeno (23:35), Rodgers Chumo (23:35), Geoffrey Korir (23:36) and Moses Koech (23:37) followed each other in that order to nail Guiyang tickets in a race that was too close to call, even with the tape in sight.
In the opening race of the day, world youth steeplechase champion Rosefline Chepngetich (19:56) was unchallenged, taking control of the front in the second kilometre and motoring away purposefully to the finish, easing off in the last 400m for the challengers to come to view with her win and place in the team assured.
Winnie Koima (20:05), 2012 world junior steeplechase champion Daisy Jepkemei (20:08), Youth Olympic Games silver medallist Winfredah Nzisa (20:10), Joyline Cherotich (20:12) and Gladys Koech (20:16) came home in that order for the top six.
World youth 3000m champion Lilian Rengeruk finished 10th in 20:33 but was rewarded for her consistency with wildcard selection to the squad where coaches will once decide whom to drop from the seven.
The selected team that will be under experienced head coach David Letting will report to their traditional camp at St Mark’s Teachers Training College in Kigari on 21 February.
Mutwiri Mutuota (Capital FM) for the IAAF
All top-six finishers plus Emily Chebet (senior women) and Lilian Kasait (junior women) named in the provisional Kenyan team for the World Cross
Senior men (12km)
1 Bedan Karoki 35:08
2 Geoffrey Kamworor 35:19
3 Leonard Barsoton 35:28
4 Moses Mukono 35:51
5 Phillip Langat 35:55
6 Joseph Kiptum 36:02
7 Joseph Chacha 36:06
8 James Gitahi 36:10
Senior women (8km)
1 Faith Kipyegon 26:24
2 Agnes Jebet Tirop 26:25
3 Janet Kisa 26:30
4 Irene Chebet 26:32
5 Alice Aprot 26:34
6 Stacy Ndiwa 26:43
7 Margaret Jelimo 26:51
8 Viola Kibiwot 26:55
Junior men (8km)
1 Dominic Kiptarus 23:34
2 John Langat 23:34
3 Alfred Ngeno 23:35
4 Rodgers Chumo 23:35
5 Geoffrey Korir 23:36
6 Moses Koech 23:37
Junior women (6km)
1 Rosefline Chepngetich 19:56
2 Winnie Koima 20:05
3 Daisy Jepkemei 20:08
4 Winfredah Nzisa 20:10
5 Joyline Cherotich 20:16
6 Gladys Koech 20:17