NAIROBI, March 29 – Three years ago, Emily Chebet Muge left the World Cross Country Championships a broken girl.
Then aged only 21, the petite athlete had gone into the event which was held in Mombasa with big goals only to post that most unwanted of results-A DNF (did not finish).
But in chilly weather in Poland last weekend, Chebet more than made up for that with a scintillating final flourish that saw her edge out World 10,000metres champion Linet Masai to win the women’s 8K race.
Shifting through the gears in the final 100metres, Chebet homed in on Masai before edging past her a few metres from the finish line. It also continued her comeback to athletics after taking time out due to maternal duties.
Genial and jovial, Chebet was making a third appearance at the World Cross Country Championships having represented Kenya as a junior as she continues the long road back to active competition after maternity leave.
The second born in a family of eight, Chebet did not have to search under the covers for inspiration. Her father Joel Rono was a journeyman runner and had the added advantage of growing up in the same village as her good friend and accomplished athlete Caroline Cheptanui (fourth/ 2009 World Half Marathon Championships).
“She hails from my village and I sued to see her run and hear of her travels and I deduced to start running like her because I also wanted to travel in a plane.”
Chebet made her Cross Country debut in 2003 when she made the Kenyan junior girls team for the Lausanne. Then aged only 16, Chebet finished fifth in a race won by Tirunesh Dibaba in March.
Having completed her primary school studies, Chebet opted against continuing with her education choosing instead to concentrate on her career by joining Kericho Adidas Track Club.
2004 was a quiet year for her with a seasonal best time of 9:03.53 in 3,000m in a Tunis meet in June and a personal best in 10K in Madrid (32:05) in November.
She graduated to the seniors a year later but found the going tough at the 2005 Kenya Trials where she finished 13th in the women’s 8K race and missed the WXC team.
Disappointed, she dabbled in shorter distances on the track clocking a personal best of 4:18.75 in 1500m in Gava, Barcelona on 12 June. Six days later, Chebet ran a personal best in 15K in Porto (50:03) and on 1 July, she ran 8:53.46 over 3000m in Paris.
Chebet’s blossoming career continued to move on in leaps with a much better 2006. She started the year with a seventh finish at the National Cross Country Championships cum Trials to miss the Fukuoka team by a whisker.
Undeterred, Chebet readied herself for the National Athletics Championships on 2 July. In a typically tough Kenyan championship, Chebet finished second behind Edith Masai in the women’s 10,000m in 32:27.
Her exploits were good enough for her selection for the Africa Athletics Championships in Mauritius.
And so on 12 August, Chebet was part of a Kenyan trio that dominated the 25-lap race in Bambous. Edith Masai won gold in a championships record of 31:27.96; Isabella Ochichi clinched silver while Chebet won bronze in lifetime best of 31:33.39.
She ended the year with a personal best over 8km (25:29) at the Ntelos 8K in Richmond, VA in November 2006 that was also a course record.
The rapidly improving runner registered more development in 2007. On 4 March, Chebet finished sixth in the women’s 8K race at the Kenya Trials and subsequently selected for the 27 March Mombasa World Cross.
However, Chebet was yet another casualty of the excessive heat and humidity that characterised the Mombasa event and registered a DNF in a race won by Dutchwoman Lornah Kiplagat.
The following month, Chebet ran a seasonal best time of 32:14 in a 10K road race in New Orleans before setting a course record at the ICE Breaker race in the US clocking 25:58 in the five-mile race on 22 April. Seven days later, she set another course record record-this time at the Sabates Eye Centers Trolley Run 4-Miler clocking 19:33.
She continued her exploits in May, finishing third at the Bloomsday 12K race and in June, she came sixth at the 29th edition of the Freihofer’s 5K run for women won by Benita Johnson timing 15:58.
On 1 July, Chebet was back on home soil this time cashing a ticket for the World Athletics Championships in Osaka. She got what she was chasing clocking 32:36 to win the women’s 10,000m race and with that, earned a place in the Japan bound flight.
In Osaka however, she was, like the rest of the world forced to play a distant second fiddle as Tirunesh Dibaba and Co destroyed the field to win gold. Chebet had to be satisfied with a ninth place finish in 32:31.21.
There was one more chance to represent the country at the Japanese Chiba Ekiden Marathon relay in October. Here she helped Kenya finish second by running the 5K leg in 15:58.
She started 2008 with an 11th place finish at the World’s Best 10K on 11 February and a week later; she won the Kericho Cross Country Championships in her hometown. She ended the month with a seasonal best time of 32:49 in a 10K race in San Juan on 24 February.
But this would be the last time she would compete that year as Chebet took the rest of 2008 to attend to family matters.
Having met Edward Muge (himself an accomplished athlete -2008 Kenya national 10000m champion) at their training camp in Kericho, the duo made their union official and was blessed with a baby daughter Serah Cherono on 27 October.
She started her comeback at the 2009/2010 domestic cross-country circuit but was not looking forward to make the Kenyan team.
She made her competitive comeback on 31 November at the 19th edition of the Discovery Kenya Cross Country held in Eldoret, finishing fifth in the senior women 8K race won by Bydgoszcz teammate, Gladys Chemweno.
Her next race at the 5th KCB/AK National Cross Country series meet in Kisii on 19 December where she improved to second in the women’s 8K race again won by Chemweno. Having gauged her shape, Chebet intensified her training as she prepared for the national championships set for February.
At the 20 February Bydgoszcz Trials, Chebet hang in there, fighting hard with seasoned athletes like Pauline Korikwiang, Lineth Chepkirui and Linet Masai to win an automatic slot for the Poland World Cross team.
“I am delighted to come back and get in the team. Competition was very tough but I worked hard and gave it my all. I hope to do even better than in Osaka in 07 and hopefully bring glory to my country.”
And bring glory to her country she did by winning the biggest of prizes in the Polish capital.
Born 18 February 1986, Ainamoi village, Bomet, Rift Valley Province.
Lives and in Kericho
Second born in a family of eight
Married to fellow athlete Edward Muge
10000m: 31:33.39 (2006)
10K: 32:05 (2004)
10000m – 2006 – 31:33.39; 2007 – 32:31.21
10K – 2004 -32:05; 2008 – 32:49; 2007 -32:14
2003 5th World Cross Country Championships (6K junior)
2006 3rd Africa Athletics Championships (10,000m)
2007 9th World Athletics Championships (10,000m)
2010 1st World Cross Country Championships (8K)
Prepared by James Wokabi and Mutwiri Mutuota for the IAAF ‘Focus on Athletes’ project. Copyright IAAF 2008