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Upstart Chepkirui savours Olympics charge

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NAIROBI, Kenya, June 19- When previews for the women 10,000m Olympics Trial were being penned, the name of Joyce Chepkirui understandably did not feature among the frontrunners for London.

But in living with true tradition of Kenyan trials, Chepkirui was only bettered by double world champion, Vivian Cheruiyot, as she romped home second in 32 minutes and 24.71 seconds to claim an automatic berth in the biggest sporting carnival.

“I’m so happy, I’m speechless, I was not thinking of this but I had trained hard and I’m pleased it worked out,” the drained but elated 23-year-old said in the immediate aftermath of her stunning performance.

Her surprise qualification had selectors in a spin and it only took intense backroom debate among top Athletics Kenya (AK) officials to confirm the Olympics squad, capping a remarkable rise for the Iten-based athlete.

Brought up in Buret District in the distance running heartland of Rift Valley Province, Chepkirui established herself as a half marathoner of repute as well as a credible track runner over multiple disciplines.

“The first thing is to give thanks to God since I was not expecting to make the Olympics team. I have represented the country twice in continental competitions and my dream was to finish among the top three.”

“I was concentrated on speed work during training and now I’m in the team. I will work with my teammates to help the country win and if possible, get a medal for myself,” she added.

With four laps to go in what was a largely pedestrian race, Chepkirui, who won the senior women 8km Africa Cross Country title in March, stepped on the gas to keep close touch with the leader, Linet Masai, the 2009 world champion who won bronze last year.

Just before the bell, Chepkirui was leading the pack after Masai fell out of the race with Cheruiyot breathing down her neck as World Half Marathon titleholder, Florence Kiplagat and world silver winner, Sally Kipyego trailed further back.

However, there was no shame in losing to the superior finishing of Cheruiyot, who eased past her after the signal for the final lap went before the double Daegu champion did just enough to hold the spirited challenger off for victory.

“When I returned from Maputo last year, I immediately embarked on hard training. I train with my husband Eric Kibet who assists me so much especially on speed work,” said the silver winner over 1,500m at All Africa Games.

Although she was not tipped to be among the competitors in London, Chepkirui understands the task for Team Kenya is to replicate the clean medal sweep just like in Daegu.

“It can happen if we work hard and it will be the only way to ensure that all of us get medals. Before the race, I was afraid of Vivian and Sally since they are all tough but now we can work together with them,” she explained.

Her spouse Kibet has a marathon career best of 2:21:04 achieved while finishing 16th at last year’s Reims Marathon in France and the couple are yet to be blessed with a child.

Chepkurui is hitting form at the appropriate time, having strung eight career half marathon wins on the international circuit, the latest being a sparkling victory at the Prague Half in a personal best of 67:03.

Her odyssey to the international scene was hatched after finishing fifth over 1,500m at the 2007 Africa Junior Championships in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, the same event where established athletes such as world men 800m record holder, David Rudisha and women Olympics champion, Pamela Jelimo made their names.

BY XINHUA

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