In one of the closest finishes in the history of the IAAF World Cross Country Championships, Kenya's world U20 5000m champion Beatrice Chebet added the world U20 cross country title to her growing list of honours.
After just under six kilometres of running, the first three athletes - Chebet and Ethiopian pair Alemitu Tariku and Tsigie Gebreselama - crossed the line together, all being awarded the same time of 20:50. It looked like Chebet had broken the tape first and she raised her arms in celebration, only for Tariku to initially be announced as the winner. However, after analysis of the photo finish, the result was revised with Chebet finally confirmed as the winner.
“At first I was disappointed, as I was told I was third and I thought I had won, but now I am happy," said the 19-year-old, who was the dominant winner at last month's Kenyan trials. "I felt strong when I sprinted to the line. My country will be happy and celebrating that I have won.”
“The competition was fast and I worked hard. I am proud,” said Tariku, who was making her debut at the World Cross Country Championships.
“We are pleased to win medals,” Gebreselama added.
It didn't take long for Ethiopia and Kenya to stamp their authority at the head of the field. However, even though the two distance running powerhouses had won all of the 26 previous women's U20 team titles, Uganda made it clear that they were not going to let their East African rivals have it all their own way, also packing well at the front of the field from the outset.
At the end of the first two-kilometre lap reached in 7:14, it was Uganda's Sarah Chelangat who was leading the pack, the 17-year-old who took gold in the 3000m/cross country event at the Youth Olympic Games last year. However, she was closely followed by Tariku and Jackline Rotich, who would eventually place ninth, heading a leading group of about 20, which also consisted of four Japanese athletes, an early indication that they would be in the hunt for a team medal.
Up the hill on the second lap, the leading group was comprising of Kenyans, Ethiopians and one Ugandan, with a small gap to two Japanese and further back, European U20 champion Nadia Battocletti leading the European charge. Chelangat was still at the head of affairs, closely tracked by Tariku and Gebreselama, with Chebet in fourth and Ethiopia's 2018 African U20 cross country champion Girmawit Gebrizihair, who also won the Ethiopian Trials last month, in fifth.
As they approached the water pit on the third and final lap, Chelangat was still in the lead, but Chebet was looking relaxed in second while the lead group was reduced to six and soon to five, as Kenyan Betty Kibet dropped off with about one kilometre to go.
As they approached the final straight, Chebet and Tariku attempted to make a break but Chelangat and Gebreselama were not giving up, with Chelangat finishing one second adrift with 20:51 in fourth, having made much of the running.
As had been expected, the innovative, man-made course provided its share of challenges.
“It was tough with the obstacles,” confirmed Chebet. “There was uphill, downhill, water, mud, sandpits. It was challenging, it was competitive and it was about perseverance. I enjoyed it.”
For the Ethiopians, they were unanimous about the most difficult element of the two-kilometre loop – the mud. “It was a hard course, with the uphill, but the mud was the hardest bit,” they both agreed.
Placing second, third, fifth and backed up by Mizan Alem in seventh, Ethiopia took the team title, edging another step closer to Kenya in the team stakes, with Kenya boasting 15 titles and Ethiopia now 12 titles.
Kenya took silver, with Japan edging Uganda by one point in the race for bronze, led by Ayuka Kaama and Ririka Hironaka in 14th and 15th.
Emily Moss for the IAAF