PUNTA UMBRIA, Spain, March 20- Vivian Cheruiyot added World Cross gold to her impressive personal collection as Linet Masai suffered heartache for the third straight year as a gripping senior women 8km race unfolded in Punta Umbria.
America’s Shalane Flanagan came home for bronze in a result that echoed her second finish at last year’s New York Marathon where she sandwiched the Kenyan pair of Edna Kiplagat and Mary Keitany.
Cheruiyot timed her finishing to perfection on Sunday to add the World Cross gold to the women 5000m World, Commonwealth and African titles she holds to deny teammate and 10000m world champion Masai the top medal for the third straight year at this competition.
“The race was fine and I was really comfortable throughout. The weather was good and I did not want to push fast in the beginning until I realised late in the race if I did not breakaway, then we would lose the team title since it became fast,” the smiling winner told reporters after completing the course in 24:58 for glory.
“I feel so great after returning to the World Cross for the first time in four years and to win gold, fantastic. I was just aiming for any medal but now that I have gold, I’m so happy. This is a good preparation for the World Championships where I’m defending the title and winning here will give me great morale,” the diminutive running machine added.
The race began at pedestrian pace with Ethiopian trio Hiwot Ayalew, Genzebe Dibaba, Beleynesh Oljira and Wude Ayalew coming through in the lead after 2km. The Ethiopians led through the next 2km before Masai with Cheruiyot in tow hit the front at the bell shoulder to shoulder. A Kenyan 1-2-3-4 looked to be on the cards as Priscah Jepleting and Pauline Korikwiang came through behind the leading pair.
With a kilometre to go, the mathematics of the race changed when Cheruiyot hit the front as Flanagan moved up from seventh to take the bronze position and at the final curve, the world 5000m champion employed her famed and after this, the most feared kick in female distance running to cruise to the title.
Masai set a record after winning her third silver in succession with 25:07 on the clock as Flanagan returned 25:10 for the third medal. Ethiopia’s ever-present Meselech Melkamu (25:18) finished fourth and failed to medal in the individual race at her first World Cross in four years.
“My goal in this championship was to win but I have become second once again. The course was fine and spectators great and I’m happy my partner Vivian won gold,” Masai said.
Just as Masai completed her hat-trick of silvers, Cheruiyot became the third successive Kenyan winner of this race after Florence Kiplagat (2009) and Emily Chebet last year.
“This is wonderful and I felt it was special sharing this stage with the Kenyans. They are so talented, so natural and they have set the standards very high and being close to them makes me excited. I’m going for fast times on the track this season motivated by how I have performed her. This was fanbtastic,” Flanagan gushed.
Jepleting (25:20) and Korikwiang (25:26) returned fifth and seventh to ensure Kenya retained the team title.