Pauline Korikwiang on her way to victory (© Elias Makori)
Meru, KenyaFormer World junior champion Pauline Korikwiang signalled her season’s intentions with a brilliant run to win the senior women’s eight-kilometre race at the third Athletics Kenya cross country championships meeting at the eastern Kenyan town of Meru on Saturday.
Armed Forces Cross Country champion, William Chebon, sprung back into the limelight by taking the senior men’s 12-kilometre title in a see-saw race.
Alex Oloitiptip and Nelly Chebet conquered the Kenya Methodist University course to win the junior titles.
Second series win for Korikwiang
Korikwiang, who missed the second race of the national series at Kericho in the Rift Valley a fortnight ago, started the season brilliantly by winning the opening race in Machakos, eastern Kenya, running a solo race earlier in the month.
And on Saturday, it was the same gun-to-tape script as the student steered clear of the opposition early on, getting rid of her main challenger, Agnes Katunge, halfway through the second lap and opening up a 20-metre gap all the way to the tape.
The hilly course had its challenges but Korikwiang, a Form One student at Nairobi’s Riruta Central Secondary School, held on to win in 29 minutes, 26.7 seconds with Katunge coming home in second place eight seconds behind the winner.
“It was a very tricky course and the steep slopes especially were killing,” Korikwiang, the World junior Cross Country champion in Fukuoka (2006), running under security firm G4S’s banner, said.
“It was difficult to maintain your balance and things would have been much more difficult had it rained. But I feel all right now and I just have to work on my speed and I’m sure I will make the team to the World Cross Country Championships.”
With Athletics Kenya having said that athletes must compete in at least four races of the six-meet national series to qualify for selection to next year’s IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Amman (March 28), Korikwiang is taking no chances and has pencilled the Kisii (December 13) and Eldoret (January 10) meets next month in her calendar.
Kenya’s five-time world Cross Country champion Paul Tergat was among the spectators at the meet after which he expressed his displeasure at the apathy shown towards the series by the country’s elite athletes.
“They need to turn up for these meets if Kenya is to stand any chance of winning the individual titles in Amman. This is the perfect training ground,” the former World Marathon record holder said.
After conservative start, Chebon wins in the sprint
Tergat watched the mind games in the senior men’s race as Chebon, his training partner at Ngong Hills, just outside Nairobi, played it safe in the lead pack – that also featured Stephen Thuku, Joseph Kimisi, Cosmas Kyeva, Patrick Koech, and Kiprono Menjo - with none of the runners risking the early break.
The conservative tactics came into play until the final lap when Chebon’s sprint proved crucial as he broke off with just 150 metres to go as the series produced a different winner following triumphs by Nicholas Kamakya and Olympic 5000 metres bronze medallist Edwin Soi in Machakos and Kericho.
“I took the challenge bravely and I look forward to making the Kenyan team to Amman,” Chebon, fresh from playing rabbit at the Delhi Half Marathon, said.
His winning time was 37:11.4 with Thuku coming in second four seconds later and Kimisi a distant third in 37:33.3.
Chebet, World Junior Championships 5000 metres bronze medallist in Bydgoszcz, was brilliant in the sunny conditions, just like Korikwiang running a gun to tape race, her training in the Lenana Forest on the outskirts of the Kenyan capital finally paying off handsomely.
“I have been away from active competition and I felt fresh and confident throughout the race,” she said
“But I need to focus on improving my performance and I hope to honour all the remaining races of the series to make the Kenyan team,” said Chebet.
Running on her home course, Fridah Kaimuri, winner of the opening round in Machakos, found the going a bit tough, finishing a disappointing fifth. Chebet’s winning time was 21:47.3.
Oloitiptip won the junior men’s 8km race in 25:09.5 and hopes to exorcise the ghosts that cost him a place in the Kenyan team to this year’s world championships in Edinburgh.
“I was spiked during the trials last year. Now I’m back and I hope to make the team to Jordan. I was sure of victory here because I have done enough training,” said Oloitiptip whose only international outing so far this year has been a cross country meet in Ethiopia last March.
The next meet of the six-race national series will be at the Kisii Golf Course in western Kenya on 13 December.
Elias Makori for the IAAF
12km, senior men: 1. William Chebon 37:11.4, 2. Stephen Thuku 37:15.3, 3. Joseph Kimisi 37:33.3, 4. Cosmas Kyeva 37:40.2, 5. Patrick Koech 37:50.3, 6. Kiprono Menjo 38:04.4.
8km, senior women: 1. Pauline Korikwiang 29:26.7, 2. Agnes Katunge 29:34.0, 3. Milka Chemos 29:45.0, 4. Pauline Njeri 30:04.7, 5. Hellen Nzembi 30:12.0, 6. Millicent Gathoni 30:19.5.
8km junior men: 1. Alex Oloitiptip 25:09.5, 2. Patrick Mwaka 25:24.7, 3. Kiplagat Koech 25;36.4, 4. Paul Tanui 25:55.6, 5. Caleb Mwangangi 26:07.2, 6. Silas Muturi 26:13.2.
Junior women 6km: 1. Nelly Chebet 21:47.3, 2. Fridah Mwikali 22:09.1, 3. Maurine Mutindi 22:15.7, 4. Zeddy Chebet 22:19.0, 5. Fridah Kaimuri 22:28.2, 6. Dorothy Karimi 22:39.3.