Three of Kenya’s world champions – Timothy Cheruiyot, Hellen Obiri and Beatrice Chepkoech – were triumphant at the Kip Keino Classic World Athletics Continental Tour Gold meeting on Saturday (3) as Nairobi hosted its first ever global one-day meet at the newly-refurbished Nyayo National Stadium.
Despite struggling with a hamstring strain, Cheruiyot maintained his 1500m winning streak and held off a strong challenge from young compatriot Kumari Taki.
With his front-leaning running style and long strides, Cheruiyot held second place throughout most of the race with Taki and his training partner Timothy Sein dictating the tempo.
But at the bell, Cheruiyot darted to the lead. Taki tried to close in on the world champion down the home straight, but Cheruiyot’s experience proved vital as he guarded his lead to win in 3:34.53. Taki, the 2016 world U20 champion, was second in 3:35.00 – just 0.86 shy of his PB. Abel Kipsang was third in 3:35.43.
“It was tough because before the race, I had a small hamstring strain and I wasn’t sure I would do well,” said Cheruiyot, who was cheered on by a sizeable crowd at the Nyayo National Stadium. “But I managed to hold it for a while to run and win. The field was very competitive and I had to do my best.”
Obiri, meanwhile, used her imperious finishing kick to win the 5000m ahead of world 10,000m bronze medallist Agnes Tirop.
Obiri kicked hard in the final 300m and went on to win in 15:06.36, crossing the finish line with a smile as she wrapped up a successful 2020 track campaign that included world-leading performances over 3000m and 5000m. Tirop finished second in 15:06.71.
“I really wanted to give the home fans something to smile about and I am happy with the race today,” said Obiri. “I just wanted to finish the season well with a win and now I can look at what’s ahead and plan for next season.”
World record-holder Chepkoech brought the curtains down on the hugely successful event, leading from the outset to win the steeplechase in 9:29.05.
“It was a very good race and I am pleased to win at home,” she said. “I wanted to run below 9:10 but unfortunately it was not possible because of the conditions. But all the same I am happy with the performance and the victory.”
Only Hyvin Kiyeng, the 2015 world champion, tried to keep up with Chepkoech’s pace – which, given Nairobi’s altitude, was pretty swift. Kiyeng finished second in 9:34.07 while Roseline Chepngetich was third in 9:46.14.
In contrast to the women’s race, the men’s steeplechase was extremely close with Commonwealth silver medallist Abraham Kibiwot just getting the better of Leonard Bett with a lunge at the finish line.
Kibiwot ran behind Bett throughout the race, but he used his momentum off the final barrier to great effect to kick to victory in 8:17.60, finishing 0.03 ahead of Bett, the 2017 world U18 champion and 2019 African U20 champion.
“I honestly didn’t think I would win today because this was my first competition of the season,” said Kibiwot, who finished seventh at last year’s World Championships. “It has been very tough training during the Covid-19 pandemic period and I just wanted to come here and try to get a good performance. I managed a win and I am so happy with myself.”
Kimeli clocks Kenyan all-comers’ record
Following PB performances over 5000m (12:51.78) and 10,000m (26:58.97) in recent months, Nicolas Kimeli impressed again in Nairobi, winning the 5000m with the fastest time ever recorded in Kenya – or indeed at any venue at altitude.
Ethiopia’s Berihu Aregawi proved to be a formidable opponent and the world U20 bronze medallist edged ahead of Kimeli with 200 metres to go. Kimeli battled back to the front, though, and responded to Aregawi’s challenge, striding ahead to win in 13:08.32. Aregawi was second in a PB of 13:08.91.
World bronze medallist Ferguson Cheruiyot Rotich won his sixth successive 800m race. Once the pacemaker had done their job, Rotich dictated the race and won comfortably in 1:44.78 with Australia’s Joseph Deng taking second place in 1:45.21.
Elsewhere in a programme that was unsurprisingly packed with endurance events, Olympic silver medallist Paul Tanui won the men’s 10,000m by 16 seconds in 28:06.90 after kicking away from the rest of the field with 800 metres to go. Lemlem Hailu won the women’s 1500m in 4:06.42, holding off a strong challenge from Kenyan duo Winny Chebet (4:06.78) and Mercy Cherono (4:06.79).
Young sprint stars emerge
One of the most surprising performances of the day came in the women’s 400m.
Namibian 17-year-old Beatrice Masilingi produced a strong final run down the home straight to win in an African U18 best of 50.99 – the fastest time in the world by an U18 athlete for 18 years. Kenya’s Mary Moraa was second in 51.99.
South Africa’s Dambile Sinesipho, the African U18 champion, won the men’s 200m in 20.44 (1.2m/s) ahead of Ivorian Arthur Cisse, who clocked 20.53. Denmark’s Tazana Kamanga-Dyrbak, another promising talent, finished third in 20.61 to break his own national U20 record.
Britain’s 2018 world U20 bronze medallist Kristal Awuah set a PB of 23.05 (-0.7m/s) to win the women’s 200m, holding off Egypt’s Bassant Hemida (23.13) and Zambia’s Rhodah Njobvu (23.18).
“I am so delighted because my main target was to run a PB and I achieved it,” said 21-year-old Awuah. “It was tough, though, because the altitude was really punishing and that’s why I’m still gasping for breath. But it is an honour to come to Kenya and win.”
Elsewhere, Venezuela’s Rosa Rodriguez produced the farthest ever hammer throw on Kenyan soil, winning the women’s event with 69.55m. Italian veteran Marco Lingua took the men’s event with 70.20m.
In the absence of 2015 world champion Julius Yego, his protege Alexander Kiprotich won the javelin with a best throw of 76.71m.
“Being the first one to win this inaugural event is historic and I hope to defend the title in May next year as I aim to qualify for Tokyo Olympics,” said Kiprotich. “What we lack in Kenya is exposure to quality competition that can improve our techniques. We need to venture out.”
Kenyan Deputy President William Ruto and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga led dignitaries at the meeting. 1500m winner Cheruiyot was named the meet’s best athlete.
Alex Isaboke (organisers) for World Athletics