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Rousing welcome for Africa Cross heroes

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NAIROBI, Kenya, March 20- Song and dance rent the air as soon as the triumphant Africa Cross Country team touched down at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport from Cape Town, South Africa, on Tuesday evening.

Relatives, friends and Athletics Kenya (AK) officials who were present extended a warm welcome to the tired squad with World Cross junior titleholder, Faith Chepng’etich who added the African crown being hoisted shoulder high.

“We were well prepared and I was sure we would bring back gold and it happened. South Africa was so hard but we struggled until the last minute.

“I’m so happy and now, I’m going back home to prepare well and I’m sure I will make the squad for the Barcelona World Juniors,” Chepng’etich, who clocked 19:32 to beat compatriots Agnes Jebet (19:34) and school mate, Nancy Chepkwemoi (19:37) to the podium on Sunday, stated.

The 2010 World Cross junior silver winner, Clement Langat, who graduated to senior gold in Cape Town by out-kicking experienced Eritrea’s Teklemariam Medhin (35:50) in 35:43, said the victory was the launch pad to his London Olympics dream.

“It gives me hope that I can medal at the Olympics where I’m planning to race the 5000m. I hope to win something for Kenya, preferably the gold.

“Before I was called to the squad, I was busy preparing for the Olympics and the Africa Cross came as a welcome intervention. I was not expecting top win but on the way, I felt very strong and went for it,” Langat, who placed sixth at the Cross Country Trials in February before he was drafted into the team late offered.

He added his triumphant moment in South Africa was the perfect cure for sitting out of action for ten months with a broken leg.

“After winning silver in 2010, I broke my leg in training and it was terrible just sitting there without competing or training. I returned to my base in Japan where I sought medical help and once I recovered, I stepped up my training for the Olympics,” Langat recalled.

“In South Africa, I felt that I needed to run from the front and it worked out the way I had planned since I felt comfortable through out.”

Having floored a quality field at the National Trials, the progression of Joyce Chepkirui sustained momentum in Cape Town with a 27:04 run for the top medal as team mates Emily Chebet (27:06) the 2010 World Cross winner and Esther Chemtai (27:07) trailed her for silver and bronze.

“It was tough since the Ethiopians were six and we were only four. We decided to work as a team to get into the top four places and then go for the medals in the last lap.

“Being my first time out in the Kenyan team, returning with the gold medal fills me with so much happiness and it has motivated me to go to the AK training camp in Eldoret and prepare for the 10000m race for the Olympics. I now believe anything can happen,” the freshly coined gold winner beamed.

Budgetary constraints on the part of AK saw Kenya send a squad of 16, four scoring runners in each of the four races that nonetheless, beat the odds to win six out of the eight titles in contention.

“Having only four runners made planning for the race difficult since our rivals had six but we trained to run together and in the end, it was not as easy as it looks. It is my hope that the performance of this team will inspire those preparing for the Olympics to train hard and work together,” Samson Katam, the Team Kenya head coach for Cape Town noted.

The team was later treated to a reception by sponsors Kenya Commercial Bank where cash prizes for the medallists were handed out.

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