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Chirchir causes people to look twice

Phil Minshull in Bydgoszcz for the IAAF

18 July 1999 - You could be forgiven for looking twice at Cornelius Chirchir and thinking that the Kenyan AAA had pulled a devious trick.

The winner of the men's 1,500 at the IAAF World Youth Championships is a carbon-copy of his elder brother who won the world junior 800 title in Annecy last year.

The brothers - William is four years older - are virtually identical, except that Cornelius is a fraction taller. "Many here have been thinking that I am actually William," Cornelius joked, in his halting English.

You could have been looking at William not just because of their physical similarity. Cornelius' race tactics are very similar – and equally effective.

Chirchir took the race by the scruff of its neck and passed through 400 in 61:27. He speeded up to stop the clock after two laps in 2:01.44 and, despite the close attention of his compatriot Michael Too, there was very little doubt who the eventual winner was going to be. Chirchir crossed the line in an unpressed 3:44.02 with Too finishing second in 3:44.70.

"I was confident that I was going to win despite the fact that I had never been outside Kenya and did not know any of the other competitors apart from Michael Too," he said.

He might not yet be the last from his family to capture junior athletics honours on a global stage. He has two younger brothers - Vincent and Kipngeno - who are already promising runners.

"However I don't let them train with me. They are still too young to run as fast as me. I prefer training alone although I sometimes train with William, when he returns home from competing in Europe."

Chirchir is going to follow in his brother’s footsteps in another fashion when he returns to Kenya. He is planning to go to the famous St Patrick's School in Iten - which can count among its many famous pupils, runners from Mike Boit to Wilson Kipketer and Japheth Kimutai, the leading protagonists in world 800 running at the moment.

Kenya topped the medal table in Bydgoszcz with five gold medals, the final one coming from another 800 man Nicholas Wachira.

Wachira was originally down to do both the 400 and 800 but after working his way through to the final of the shorter event, due to be held just minutes before the 800, he decided discretion was the better part of valour.

The former 400 hurdler, who converted to his new event only last year, tucked in behind Ethiopia's Berhanu Alenu on the first lap and then exploded with 150 metres to go, although he could not quite shrug off Alenu, to cross the line in 1:50.70. Alenu finished second in 1:50.79, for his country's third silver medal of the games behind a Kenyan winner.

When asked whether Wachira could emulate the feats of Kipketer and Kimutai in the future, Kenyan coach Robert Ngisinei wisely refused to put pressure on him.

"He's good now, and he's going to get better. For Wachira coming to Bydgoszcz was a learning experience. He has never raced outside of Kenya before now. In fact none of the team apart from Vivian Cheruiyot (women's 3,000 bronze medallist) have," Ngisinei said.

Kenyans by nature are often not very talkative regardless of the result but it was hard to stop Chinese Taipei discus thrower Chang Ming-Huang after he had won his specialist event.

The 118kg giant unleashed the discus out to 64.14 in the first round -- a feat of Beamon-esque proportions in his age group. He added more than four metres to his pre-championship best of 59.47, which lead the world before the Championships.

No one, not even Ming-Huang himself, could come close and the silver medal was won by China's Haubing Zhang with a highly impressive 58.36, but a mark which paled by comparison to the winning effort.

However Ming-Huang said his huge throw had not come as quite as big a surprise to himself as it did to the 8,000 spectators in the Zawisza stadium. "If you are determined to train and determined to win then it is not so difficult."

"I think Poland in beautiful," he added, clearly in love with the country after his tremendous throw. "Polish girls are beautiful too," hinting that it was more than the countryside that took his fancy. If any local woman should catch his eye then he might stand a chance of capturing her heart by serenading her. He lists singing Chinese songs as his main hobby, along with collecting knives and forks!

South Africa produced two impressive winners over one lap. Martinus Kritzinger lead the way by taking the 400 metres hurdles in 49.86 and moments later William Nkosi, and confirming his status as the favourite for the event, shot around one lap in 46.94 seconds.

Unlike many competitors, Kritzinger came to Bydgoszcz fully prepared about the high level of competition.

"I came here to win because I ran at the International Schools Foundation meeting in Beijing last year. I came second there and I have been keeping track of who has been running well in my age group," the former rugby player, who gave up the sport last year because of the danger of injury, said.

South Africa's Zanelle Grobler made sure that it was not just her countrymen who were hogging the limelight. She ran an outstanding tactical race to win in 4:23.06.

The Kenyan silver medallist Chibiwott Kibet will have another chance of World Youth Championship glory though. She is still only 15 and will be able to return in two years time to redeem herself. She admitted that she had been running to team orders and concentrating too hard on what the Ethiopian runners, who had poor outings, were doing.

"It goes to show you have got to watch everybody. The 1,500 was probably our only event her which was a little disappointing," an otherwise delighted Ngisinei said.