Steeplechase specialist Amos Kirui upstaged some of his more established domestic rivals to win the hotly-contested senior men’s race at the Kenyan Cross Country Championships in Eldoret on Saturday (23).
The 2016 world U20 steeplechase champion sprinted away from a field that included two-time world cross-country champion Geoffrey Kamworor and world U20 10,000m champion Rhonex Kipruto to win comfortably by seven seconds, securing his spot on the Kenyan team for the IAAF World Cross Country Championships Aarhus 2019.
World 5000m champion Hellen Obiri dominated the senior women’s race, while Samuel Chebole and Beatrice Chebet were convincing winners of the U20 races as the country’s top athletes battled it out for places on Kenya’s World Cross squad.
Nicholas Kosimbei, the 2014 world U20 10,000m bronze medallist, made a significant move after just a few minutes, opening up a large gap on the rest of the field on the first of five two-kilometre laps. Unsurprisingly, though, the chase pack reeled him in towards the end of that lap.
Kirui, Kamworor and Kipruto were among the six men to break away from the rest of the field by the half-way point. 2016 world U20 10,000m champion Rodgers Kwemoi Chumo, 2015 world U18 3000m champion Richard Yator and relative unknown Evans Keitany were also in the pack but no one was willing to break away.
With little more than two kilometres left, Kamworor moved to the front of the pack and tried to increase the pace, but it did little to break up the sextet as they approached the final lap.
To the surprise of many of the thousands of spectators, it was Kirui who pulled ahead of the rest of the leaders in the closing stages. The 21-year-old from the South Rift kicked ahead to cross the finish line in 29:51, his first victory in any race since the 2016 World U20 Championships.
Keitany, just as unexpected, finished second in 29:58 with Chumo taking third place and Kimunyan finishing fourth. Kamworor and Kipruto – the two big pre-race favourites – finished fifth and sixth respectively in 30:04 and 30:09 to secure the last two automatic spots on the team.
Kamworor, however, won’t be overly concerned as he didn’t win the Kenyan title in 2015 or 2017, the years in which he won his world cross-country crowns.
Hellen Obiri is the new national women's cross country champion pic.twitter.com/8IMiKERqyH— Athletics Kenya (AK) (@athletics_kenya) February 23, 2019
Following a 29:59 clocking for 10km at the end of December and a victory at the IAAF Cross Country Permit meeting in Elgoibar last month, Obiri continued her string of impressive recent performances to win the senior women’s race in Eldoret.
The Olympic silver medallist bided her time during the first half of the race, allowing Beatrice Mutai to lead a break-away pack of five women which also included steeplechase world record-holder Beatrice Chepkoech.
About 18 minutes into the race, Obiri moved past Mutai and gradually opened up a significant lead. Unchallenged, the 29-year-old extended her advantage with each lap and eventually won in 33:15.
Mutai, the 2016 African cross-country bronze medallist, finished 10 seconds adrift to take the runner-up spot while Chepkoech came through to finish third in 33:55. Relative unknown steeplechaser Deborah Samum was a surprise fourth-place finisher, ahead of Eva Cherono and world cross-country bronze medallist Lillian Kasait.
National Junior cross country championships Samuel Chebole and Beatrice Chebet at the national cross country championships at the Eldoret Sports Club pic.twitter.com/KVbipUP0RM— Athletics Kenya (AK) (@athletics_kenya) February 23, 2019
Samuel Chebolei, who last year won the senior Kenyan 5000m title at just 17 years of age, booked his place on his first international championships team by winning the U20 men's race in Eldoret.
He won in 24:10 to finish eight seconds ahead of Emmanuel Kiprotich. World U18 champion Leonard Bett was third in 24:25.
World U20 5000m champion Beatrice Chebet lived up to expectations in the U20 women’s race and was the most dominant performer at Eldoret Sports Club. The 18-year-old improved on her third-place finish from last year to win in 20:03.
Steeplechaser Betty Chepkemoi Kibet was a distant second in 20:32 while Jackline Rotich was third.
Senior men (10km)
1 Amos Kirui 29:51
2 Evans Keitany 29:58
3 Rodgers Kwemoi Chumo 30:00
4 Richard Kimunyan 30:01
5 Geoffrey Kamworor 30:04
6 Rhonex Kipruto 30:09
7 Emmanuel Bor 30:19
8 Paul Tanui 30:24
9 Vedic Cheruiyot 30:29
10 Josphat Bett 30:30
1 Hellen Obiri 33:15
2 Beatrice Mutai 33:25
3 Beatrice Chepkoech 33:55
4 Deborah Samum 34:07
5 Eva Cherono 34:10
6 Lillian Kasait 34:15
7 Jackline Cherotich 34:22
8 Hyvin Kiyeng 34:24
9 Edith Jelimo 34:28
10 Irene Kamais 34:49
1 Samuel Chebolei 24:10
2 Emmanuel Kiprotich 24:18
3 Leonard Bett 24:25
4 Edwin Kioskey 24:26
5 Charles Karuri 24:32
6 Kibet Kandie 24:35
U20 women (6km)
1 Beatrice Chebet 20:03
2 Betty Chepkemoi Kibet 20:32
3 Jackline Rotich 20:40
4 Agnes Mwikali 20:43
5 Lydia Jeruto 20:45
6 Mercy Chepkorir 20:47