Those who will head to the the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Punta Umbria, Spain on 20 March will not witness any reigning champion in all four races.
This was after aspirations the of Joseph Ebuya (senior men), Emily Chebet (senior women), Caleb Mwangangi (junior men) and Mercy Cherono (junior women) were collectively buried in the scrap heap of the forcefully competed 19th IAAF Permit/KCB National Cross Country Championships on Saturday (19).
In their stead, Geoffrey Mutai (senior men), Linet Masai (senior women), teen sensation, Isaiah Koech (junior men) and unheralded Janet Kisia (junior women) scaled the limelight.
If there was any other further proof needed that the Kenyan selection event for the World Cross is tougher than the event itself, what transpired at Nairobi’s Uhuru Gardens in three hours rests that argument - for good.
Ebuya and Chebet further suffered having Did Not Finish (DNF) appended next to their names as the graduating Mwangangi and Cherono found the transition from age-athletes to seniors a hard nut to crack. Mwangangi was 47th as Cherono took the rather ominous 13th placing.
However, the Bydgoszcz quartet’s woes only served to heighten the excitement of an athletics jamboree that attracted a constellation of current and retired distance world-beaters, top Athlete Representatives in the world, invited dignitaries including London Marathon director David Bedford, a battery of local and international media and scores of Nairobi residents.
The climax of the meeting was the annual ritual of naming 24 runners that will bear Kenya’s hopes in Punta Umbria and for the first time, a further 20 were selected to feature for the country at the 6 March Africa Cross Country Championships in Cape Town, South Africa. The departing Bydgoszcz gold medallists also missed out on this consolatory ticket.
Senior men 12km
Cast as the pre-race favourite, Rotterdam and Berlin marathons runner-up Geoffrey Mutai perfectly executed his part in an Oscar Award winning show.
From the gun, Mutai nosed in front and with 6km done, he injected a burst of pace that only Edinburgh and Amman World Cross campaigner, Matthew Kisorio and Hosea Macharinyang who ran in Fukuoka, Mombasa and Scotland could keep up with.
At the bell, Mutai had only Kisorio, his Police comrade for company after Macharinyang fizzled out. The winner laid down the hammer with 800m to go and sped away to seal victory in 34:35.0 against the challenger’s 35:19.4.
Mombasa 2007 junior silver winner, Vincent Kiprop (Armed Forces) powered up the field in the last 2km to claim third (35:23.5) ahead of new Police recruit, Philemon Rono’s (35:26.0) who he had carried with him. The tiring Macharinyang (35:35.4) was fifth a place above world 10km and 15km record holder, Leonard Komon (35:40.8/Nairobi) as defending champion, Paul Tanui (35:46.1) took seventh.
“As long as Athletics Kenya allow me to train at my Iten camp, I will happily compete for the country in Spain and bring the nation glory. If they do not, I will concentrate on the Boston Marathon that I have been invited,” Mutai said.
Joseph Ebuya, the World Cross titleholder will watch Punta Umbria on television after pulling out inside the first 2km loop. His coach at Defence Forces, Noah Ngeny later disclosed the champion complained of stomach pains.
Senior women 8km
The only part of the script that was torn here was the withdrawal of world titleholder, Emily Chebet due to a twisted ankle as touted 2009 World champions on the track, Linet Masai (10,000m) and Vivian Cheruiyot (5000m) knocked the seven bells out of each other before the former prevailed in 26:20.5.
“I believe I was denied my gold medals in Amman and Poland and I’m still bitter about it. It is my hope the disappointment will be erased in Spain and today, I’m happy my plan worked out. I was nervous before the race especially because of Vivian but after sitting for 4km, I went ahead and was able to hold my position,” Masai, the World Cross bridesmaid at the last two editions said.
“I have never won a World Cross medal in my career and this year, I decided to go for it. I have fulfilled my first objective of making the team and now, it is to focus for victory at the training camp,” Cheruiyot, who raced 26:23.2 for second added.
Priscah Jepleting Cherono, who is returning after maternity leave managed to keep touch with the marauding leaders to share the podium with them in 26:33.2 and was rewarded with a first return to the World Cross since 2007 where she finished seventh. Sharon Cherop (26:39.8) was fourth but subsequently surrendered her Punta Umbria team automatic slot to concentrate on April’s Boston Marathon. Berlin 5000m silver winner, Sylvia Kibet (26:41.4) sealed fifth.
Junior men 8km
After blessing the Düsseldorf and Gent indoor meetings with new World junior bests last week, the Isaiah Koech fever continued its grip in distance running after an almost solo run for the tape that ended in 23:29.5 quashed a quality field.
“At the beginning, it was tough since I had just returned from Europe but as we went on, I felt my body get stronger. My aim is to take gold in Spain before going for the World Championships,” the teenage sensation said. Koech who was fourth in Poland thus became the only runner in this category to earn a rapid return to the World Cross.
Janet Kisia (19:51.7), who has been bubbling in the local cross country circuit with victory at the fifth KCB/AK meet in Kisii and second at the seventh in Iten, finally came good and claimed the scalp of overwhelming favourite and unbeaten Faith Chepng’etich (19:54.0) in the sprint finish. North Rift runner, Jepkorir Koech (19:52.2) stole in for second to leave Chepng’etich, fourth in Poland, to settle for third when the trio, who had kept together for most of the race in the lead, staged an exciting finale to the race.
Poland silver winner, Purity Cherotich, another top contender, was flattened less than a kilometre into the race but AK took a lenient view of her case and she was granted outside selection for Spain.
Mutwiri Mutuota for the IAAF
PUNTA UMBRIA SQUAD: Junior Women 6km: Janet Kisa, Janet Jepkorir, Faith Chepng’etich, Nancy Chepkwemoi, Naomi Chepng’eno and Purity Cherotich Junior Men 8km: Isaiah Koech, Justin Cheruiyot, Philemon Yator, Geoffrey Kipsang, James Gitahi and Patrick Mutunga Senior Women 8km: Linet Masai, Vivian Cheruiyot, Priscah Cherono, Sylvia Kibet, Pauline Korikwiang and Lineth Chepkurui Senior Men 12km: Geoffrey Mutai, Mathew Kisorio, Vincent Kiprop, Philemon Limo, Hosea Macharinyang and Leonard Patrick Komon
CAPE TOWN SQUAD: Junior women 6km: Caroline Chepkoech, Jepchirchir Jeruto, Zipporah Wanjiru, Mary Munanu, Alice Aprot and Norah Jeruto Junior men 8km: Patrick Muaka, Japheth Korir, Denis Kipruto, Edwin Mokua, Nicholas Togom and Peter Kitur Senior women 8km: Pauline Njeri, Doris Changeiywo, Viola Kibiwott and Grace Momanyi. Reserve: Iness Chenonge (reserve) Senior mwn 12km: Paul Tanui, Stephen Kiprotich, John Mwangangi and Philip Kiprono. Reserves: Henry Chirchir and Charles Kibet
Leading Results - SENIOR MEN 12KM 1. Geoffrey Mutai 34:35.0 2. Mathew Kisorio 35:19.4 3. Vincent Kiprop 35:23.5 4. Philemon Limo 35:26.0 5. Hosea Macharinyang 35:35.4 6. Leonard Komon 35:40.8 7. Paul Tanui 35:46.1 8. Stephen Kiprotich 35:49.1 9. John Mwangangi 35:50.7 10. Philip Kiprono 35:54.2