Report04 Mar 2024

Sawe and Ngetich triumph at competitive Kenyan Cross Country Champs


Sabastian Sawe wins the Kenyan Cross Country Championships (© Michelle Katami)

World half marathon champion Sabastian Sawe and world 10km record-holder Agnes Jebet Ngetich fed off tough competition to win the senior titles at the Kenyan Cross Country Championships held at the Kenya Prisons Staff College in Ruiru on Saturday (2).

The start of the men’s senior race was a scramble with more than 100 men taking off, including Sawe, two-time world cross-country champion Geoffrey Kamworor and world U20 cross-country champion Ishmael Kipkirui.

The lead pack was compact through the first lap, after which Kamworor took command, sharing the lead with Kipkirui. By the time they reached the third lap of a course that had thickets, hills and obstacles in tyres, the lead pack was down to eight with Kamworor and Kipkirui still in the lead while Sawe was positioned towards the back of the group.

With half a kilometre to go, Sawe put in a surge to move into the lead. His sprint finish was too strong and he crossed the line in 28:39, with 2019 world U20 cross-country bronze medallist Samwel Chebolei Masai taking second (28:39) and Gideon Rono completing the podium (28:42).

The 27-year-old Sawe is now setting his sights on the World Athletics Cross Country Championships Belgrade 24, where he hopes to improve on his seventh-place finish from the last edition.

“The pace was too high, so I had to save my energy for the finish,” he said. “This competition was very hard; every athlete was strong which is why we stayed as a pack for long.

“Now I am going to prepare well in the remaining few weeks to be ready for Belgrade,” he added. “This year I am going to give it my best.”

The senior women’s race, which was started by cross-country legend Paul Tergat, took off at a brisk pace – which wasn’t too much of a surprise, given that the two fastest 10km runners in history were competing.

Agnes Jebet Ngetich and Emmaculate Anyango Acholi – who clocked 28:46 and 28:57 respectively at the Valencia 10km in January – was joined by world cross-country champion Beatrice Chebet and Lilian Kasait in the early stages, and the quartet soon dropped the rest of the field. 

The gap to the chasers continued to grow as the four women in the lead pack took turns at the front while battling the blistering sun and dry course. On the final lap, Ngetich and Anyango ran side by side with Chebet and Kasait close behind.

With about 400 metres to go, world cross-country bronze medallist Ngetich surged with Anyango giving chase. Ngetich held on to win in 31:51 from Anyango (31:54) and Kasait (31:57).

“The race was very competitive and the sun was too hot,” said Ngetich. “It was not easy because the four of us are strong athletes. Beatrice Chebet, Emmaculate Anyango – who I have run with for a long time – and Lilian Kasait are all strong.

“I am so excited I am going to represent my country again,” she added. “We will fight to bring the medal back home. If I win a medal in Belgrade, it will be a motivator as I prepare for the Olympic Games.”

“When you are a world record-holder, there is extra pressure. But you have to put your best foot forward and focus on the next challenge.”

Sheila Chebet outpaced Deborah Chemutai to win the U20 women’s 6km event, 19:31 to 19:32. Nancy Cherop was third in 19:34.

In the U20 men’s race, African U20 bronze medallist Samuel Kibathi emerged the winner in 22:38 from Charles Rotich (22:39) and Matthew Kipruto (22:45).

The top six athletes from each race are expected to feature on the Kenyan team for the World Cross Country Championships in Belgrade.

Michelle Katami for World Athletics

Leading results

Senior women (10km)
1 Agnes Jebet Ngetich 31:51
2 Emmaculate Anyango Acholi 31:54
3 Lilian Kasait Lengeruk 31:57
4 Beatrice Chebet
5 Margaret Chelimo Kipkemboi
6 Cinthia Chepngeno

Senior men (10km)
1 Sabastian Sawe 28:39
2 Samwel Chebolei Masai 28:39
3 Gideon Rono 28:42
4 Geoffrey Kamworor
5 Benson Kiplangat
6 Ishmael Kipkirui

U20 women (6km)
1 Sheila Chebet 19:31
2 Deborah Chemutai 19:32
3 Nancy Cherop 19:34

U20 men (8km)
1 Samwel Kibathi 22:38
2 Charles Rotich 22:39
3 Mathew Kipkoech Kipruto 22:45

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