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Chebet on cusp of World Cross history

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EMILY-CHEBETGUIYANG, March 27- The spotlight has never shone on Emily Chebet Muge like it has in Guiyang, China ahead of her title senior women’s title defence at the 41st edition of IAAF World Cross Country.

The champion of few words has been thrust to the centre of attention since she touched down in China as the reluctant star of the meet among 436 competitors drawn from 51 nations as she stands on the cusp of history.

A successful defence will make her only the third woman in history to win the coveted women’s long race title thrice in the illustrious footsteps of Norwegian legend and five-time winner, Grete Waitz and match Ethiopian titan, Tirunesh Dibaba in the World Cross roll of honour.

What would set her apart from her illustrious predecessors is the fact she would become the first athlete in the biennial cycle era of the global showpiece to complete the hat-trick but she’s not keen on chasing down history.

“I did not come here to run to match anybody; I came here to run my race with my teammates to help each other on the course. Win or lose, I will be satisfied with knowing I did my best for my nation, I’m not running as an individual,” she declared.

Having missed her first title defence in Punta Umbria, Spain in 2011 with injury, fate conspired to almost rob the Guiyang World Cross one of its biggest attractions after stomach acid slowed her down to 14th at the February 18 National Championships and out of the running for an automatic place in the Kenyan squad.

Athletics Kenya (AK) selectors gambled on including her in the provisional squad as a wildcard and injury to national champion and title prospect, two-time World Cross junior champion, Faith Chepng’etich in camp thrust her back as her nation’s strongest weapon for glory in the women’s long race on Saturday.

“I don’t know who will win. We have come here as a team and the cold does not scare us since we are accustomed to running in Europe in such conditions. Everyone wants to win so at the end of the day, our aim is to work as a team and at the final metres, then we shall see,” she added.

On Friday, Chebet, 29 alongside teammate and captain, Geoffrey Kipsang, American men senior hopeful and 10th finisher from Poland, Chris Derrick and local star Ding Chanqin who will be among her challengers in the women’s 8km showdown was selected for the IAAF Press Conference.

“We are pleased Emily Chebet returns to defend the title she won in Bydgoszcz, Poland in 2010 and 2013,” IAAF President, Lamine Diack said in his tribute to the Kericho born and bred athlete.

 – Champion of fate-

During the run-up to her previous triumphs where she came to the World Cross on the back of identical fourth finishes at the Kenyan Trials, Chebet ended up being an incidental winner, her battle of wills grinding compatriot Linet Masai and Ethiopian Hiwot Ayalew with the tape in sight.

With humid conditions and a muddy track ready to be obstacles to her march to history, it would be foolish to see past last year’s Commonwealth 10,000m bronze medallist in Guiyang in her pursuit for a hat-trick of world cross-country titles having chalked two podium finishes in Spain earlier this year.

Despite the absence of Chepng’etich, Chebet has an able supporting cast to ensure the other 25 nations in contention have a battle in their hands to end Kenya’s reign since 2009 when Florence Kiplagat ended Ethiopia’s choke hold in the winding sandy Amman course.

Agnes Tirop is making her international senior debut, having taken silver in the junior race two years ago before turning the metal to gold the following year in Kampala during the Africa Cross Country Championships.

Meanwhile, Janet Kisa and Alice Aprot, who won silver and bronze in Kampala, are other studs in the Kenyan charge.

-Ethiopian challenge-

With a hard winding course laid out for the combatants, Ethiopia’s best are hopeful of adapting to the conditions better than their Kenyan rivals with 2011 junior silver medallist Genet Yalew leading the way.

Last month the 22-year-old demonstrated her dominance in the mud by leaving behind the likes of world junior 5000m champion Alemitu Heroye and world 10,000m and cross-country bronze medallist Belaynesh Oljira, both of whom also feature on the team.

Uganda’s Juliet Chekwel is ranked as an imposing dark horse in what is expected to be another East Africa duel for honours.

 -Mutwiri Mutuota is reporting from Guiyang, China/Photo IAAF

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