News24 Mar 2007

Kenya's junior monopoly - Mombasa 2007


Linet Chepkwemoi Masai of Kenya on the way to win the Women's JUNIOR race (© Getty Images)

The theme for these 35th IAAF World Cross Country Championships, the first ever hosted by cross country powerhouse Kenya, was ‘Cross Country Comes Home’. With their overwhelming victories in the both the men’s and women’s junior races, that often heard slogan certainly rang true.

From the podium sweep in the junior women’s race that opened the competition to the top-four sweep in the junior men’s, the hosts clearly illustrated that, for now, no nation on earth can match the cross country depth produced in this east African nation.

But while their dominance was clear, the brutally hot and humid conditions that may come to define these championships made their respective victories anything but a Sunday walk in the park.

Running in her first international competition, Linet Chepkwemoi Barasa was the clear winner, covering the 6km course in 20:52, seven seconds clear of mercy Kosgei who reached the line 11 seconds ahead of Veronica Wanjiru, to complete Kenya ’s second consecutive podium sweep and their fifth overall since junior competition began in 1989. Kosgei moved up a notch from her bronze medal performance of a year ago, while Wanjiru, a two-time defending silver medallist, couldn’t quite live up to her own pedigree.

“I’m just very happy,” Chepkwemoi Barasa said. “All I was thinking about was the gold medal.”

But that type of concentration may have cost Pauline Korikwiang a successful title defence. Miscounting laps, the Fukuoka champion, along with a pair of Ethiopians in hot pursuit, kicked to their perceived finish less than 15 minutes into the race, effectively knocking the trio out of the competition. Korikwiang forged on but with simply no energy left, she eventually took a dramatic dizzying fall on the back stretch of the final lap.

Meraf Bahta, sixth overall, led Eritrea to the runner-up spot in the team competition, the first medal ever for the small nation at a World Country Championship. Sule Utura and Genzebe Dibaba, the 16-year-old younger sister of Tirunesh and Eyagayou, finished fifth and sixth respectively, to lead Ethiopia to the bronze.

Underscoring the difficult conditions, 20 of the 87 starters didn’t finish.

While the Kenyan women proved a mighty force, the men were unstoppable en route to their ninth straight men’s junior title, and 19th in the last 20 years.

This year it was 17-year-old Asbel Kiprop, who took top honours, continuing the frenzied celebration by the throng of more than 30,000 than lined every conceivable part of the course. Kiprop covered the 8km course in 24:07, five seconds ahead of Vincent Chepkok, this year’s national junior champion and another 17-year-old. Matthew Kisorio was 15 seconds back to take the bronze over Leonard Komon, the silver medallist last year.

Following the perfect 10-point tally by the Kenyans, Eritrea was a distant second with 44 points to move up a notch from last year’s finish, with Ethiopia, the silver medallists the past eight straight years, finishing third with 54 points.

Bob Ramsak for the IAAF

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