Philemon Rono wins Kenya's World Cross selection race in Nairobi (© Stafford Ondego, The Standard)
The final arithmetic for the Kenyan 2013 Bydgoszcz IAAF World Cross Championships team is in the hands of coaches after 28 athletes were selected in the initial squad following the conclusion of the strongly contested KCB/AK National Cross Country Championships, an IAAF Cross Country Permit meeting, in Nairobi on Saturday (16).
The event served up four action-packed races with Philemon Rono stunning a loaded field in the senior men’s 12km with Margaret Muriuki, sixth in Bydgoszcz 2010 and eighth in Edinburgh 2008, taking the honours in the corresponding women’s race.
After flickering on and off in the build-up to the Nationals, Kipyegon, the reigning World junior cross-country champion, oozed class in the junior women’s 6km while the junior men’s 8km event produced a shock winner in the form of Ronald Kwemoi.
Athletics Kenya selectors named four wildcards namely Cherono, the junior champion from Bydgoszcz 2010, Kipsang, the junior gold medallist from Punta Umbria, Vincent Chepkok and World junior 3000m champion Mercy Chepwogen.
Hosea Macharinyang, a veteran of seven World Cross editions, is also in the frame for a national record eighth appearance while the senior men’s race winner at Bydgoszcz 2010, Joseph Ebuya, was among a slew of seasoned athletes who were buried under the scorching heat of the slightly muddy Uhuru Gardens course in Nairobi.
Rono surprises in senior men’s 12km
In a fitting finale to the programme, Police officer Philemon Rono, who has never before donned the national colours, emerged the best from a three-pronged challenge for top honours to defeat a loaded line-up with an accomplished last-lap performance.
From the 8km mark to the bell, Rono, Prisons athlete Timothy Kiptoo and Geoffrey Kirui traded the lead but the diminutive 22 year-old shifted the gears with 600m left to depose his challengers as he arrived at the finish in 35:22.
Kiptoo (35:25) and Kirui (35:27) followed suit to populate the podium with the old warrior, Macharinyang (35:32) finishing just outside sealing one of the four automatic places available in the national squad.
“My plan was just to hang among the leaders but the guys increased the pace,” said Rono, who trains in Kaptagat. “I didn’t have any fear and making the national team after trying for a number of years makes me very happy.
“What remains now is to train hard for the World Cross but this is a dream come true,” added the 60:58 half-marathoner.
Macharinyang, who is yet to scale the podium at the World Cross, reiterated: “All this will only make sense when I win a medal and this time, I will give it my all.”
AK selectors added Kipsang, who triumphed at yesterday’s RAK Half Marathon, and Vincent Chepkok, the bronze medallist from Punta Umbria, as outside selections.
“We all saw what Kipsang did in the UAE and he also won the junior title in Punta Umbria and the coaches would like to see whether he can maintain this form since this is the title that has been eluding us,” explained AK general secretary David Okeyo.
In the scrap heap, Ebuya – winner in Bydgoszcz three years ago – dropped out alongside 2008 silver medallist Leonard Komon, while 2011 silver medallist Paul Tanui was 25th as former World junior champion John Mwangangi finished 14th.
Muriuki dedicates senior women’s victory to mother
In the absence of Vivian Cheruiyot and Linet Masai, the gold and silver medallists from the 2011 World Cross, the senior women’s race saw Margaret Muriuki sprint away from the rest of the pack to glide to victory in 26:47.
It was the befitting dedication to her ailing mother, who is currently hospitalised in Nairobi.
“For the last week, I have been forced to train once in the morning and late in the evening to take care of her,” said Muriuki.
“My sister called before we ran and told me she had spent the whole night praying for me and I hope this will make her feel better since she is yet to recover well.
“The competition was tough but the experience I have helped since I was able to adapt to the competition and I’m delighted to make the team,” she added. “I convinced myself I’m the best of best winners today and I’m targeting gold.”
Emily Chebet fulfilled her dream of having a second bite at the Bydgoszcz cherry when she nailed a top-four finish in 26:53.
“Towards the end, I struggled since I had been spiked hard but I did all I could to be among the top four. Last time, I finished fourth here and won the world title. I’m praying the same happens again since I repeated what I did here.
“Before I was stepped on, I felt the form I was in 2010 was back and since we are going back to a place I love, I will give my best,” added Chebet.
Irene Cheptai (26:49) and Janet Kisia (26:51), who was fifth as a junior in Punta Umbria, trailed the winner to round up the top three.
Despite finishing 48th, Mercy Cherono, the junior World Cross champion from 2010, was given a wildcard due to her sterling performances in the IAAF Permit circuit.
Kwemoi takes a step closer to fulfilling his dream
Having been forced to drop out of school in 2009 due to lack of fees, Ronald Kwemoi turned to athletics to escape from the shackles of poverty.
Only last year, he and his coach Godwill Kipruto – who had moved him to Iten, the self-styled University of athletics – met athletes representative Juan Pineda, who helped him secure training equipment.
On Saturday Kwemoi put together a breath-taking last lap to edge out Japan-based Leonard Barsoton, who was in charge at the bell, for the honours in 23:11 against 23:17. Moses Mukono, another from the famed Bro Colm O’Connell production line, romped home third in 23:21 after leading the race for most part.
“This is my first time here. I’m so excited since I had trained hard for this. I cannot let Kenya down. I’m aiming to be like Asbel Kiprop and Ezekiel Kemboi and I was expecting to do well here since I was in good shape,” said the 18-year-old Kwemoi from Mount Elgon.
“I want to make the most of my talent. I love running and my aim is perform at the top level after deciding to train hard when I could no longer go to school.”
No wildcard was named in this race.
Kipyegon lives up to expectations in junior women’s race
There was only to be one winner when Faith Chepngetich Kipyegon, one of the top junior runners of her generation, is in the mood and Saturday was no exception.
Having been shadowed by Agnes Chebet and Roseline Chepngetich as well as younger sister Caroline Chepkoech, the Punta Umbria and Barcelona World Juniors gold medal-winner simply accelerated from her competition over the last kilometre to win comfortably with a gap of some 30m at the tape in 19:54.
Her joy was sealed when her sibling Chepkoech (20:08) came fourth after nicking the exhausted and flailing Sheila Chepngetich at the line to command an automatic slot behind Chebet (20:03) and Roseline (20:05).
“We trained together and I’m so happy for her,” said the winner of her sister’s performance. “The first part of a difficult assignment is done and now, what remains is to work hard to defend my title.”
World junior steeplechase champion Mercy Chepwogen was rewarded for her consistency in the domestic Cross series when she was granted outside selection.
Subsequently, the team will report for residential training on February 20 ahead of departure for Poland on March 20.
Sammy Rono, who was among the coaches at the London Olympics, is the man in charge of the team after the reign of David Letting, who led the squad to Bydgoszcz and Punta Umbria, was brought to an end.
Mutwiri Mutuota (Capital FM) for the IAAF
Provisional Kenyan World Cross squad
Senior men: Philemon Rono, Timothy Kiptoo, Geoffrey Kirui, Hosea Mwok Macharinyang, Jonathan Muia, Japheth Korir, Geoffrey Kipsang, Vincent Chepkok.
Senior women: Margaret Muriuki, Irene Cheptai, Janet Kisa, Emily Chebet, Beatrice Chepkemoi, Viola Kibiwott, Mercy Cherono.
Junior men: Ronald Kwemoi, Leonard Barsoton, Moses Mukono, Emanuel Bett, Bernard Kipkemoi, Conseslus Kipruto.
Junior women: Faith Chepngetich Kipyegon, Agnes Chebet, Roseline Chepngetich, Caroline Chepkoech, Sheila Chepngetich, Pauline Kaveke, Mercy Chepwogen.
Senior men’s 12km
1 Philemon Rono 35:22
2 Timothy Kiptoo 35:25
3 Geoffrey Kirui 35:27
4 Hosea Macharinyang 35:32
5 Jonathan Muia 35:33
6 Japheth Korir 35:37
Senior women’s 8km
1 Margaret Muriuki 26:47
2 Irene Cheptai 26:49
3 Janet Kisa 26:51
4 Emily Chebet 26:53
5 Beatrice Chepkemoi 26:57
6 Viola Kibiwott 27:04
Junior men’s 8km
1 Ronald Kwemoi 23:11
2 Leonard Barsoton 23:17
3 Moses Mukono 23:21
4 Emmanuel Bett 23:22
5 Bernard Kipkemoi 23:33
6 Conseslus Kipruto 23:40
Junior women’s 6km
1 Faith Chepngetich Kipyegon 19:54
2 Agnes Chebet 20:03
3 Roseline Chepngetich 20:05
4 Caroline Chepkoech 20:08
5 Sheila Chepngetich 20:17