NAIROBI, Kenya, February 19- Prior to Saturday, there was very little to write or say about Kenya’s Philemon Rono, the Kaptagat (Rift Valley) based distance runner.
However, the beauty of Kenyan athletics is stories of rags to riches replicate each other every season.
This time, the wheels of fortune landed on the 22-year-old police officer when he vanquished a loaded field in the senior men 8km race at the National Cross Country Championships.
Topping the signature race at an event dubbed mini-World Cross has duly accorded Kiptoo the spotlight ahead of the global showpiece that will be held in the Polish city of Bydgoszcz on March 24.
“It is my first time in the team having tried for a number of years without success. I have competed in various road races including half marathons outside the country but this is the first time I will be travelling with the national team.
“What remains for me is to train hard and from there, we shall see how things will come,” the freshly minted Kenyan cross titleholder stated, still not believing what he accomplished.
On Saturday, Rono, who was nowhere among the listed pre-race favourites, put together a tactical master class through the opening five of the six 2km laps before opening up his legs to fashion a devastating sprint for the finish during the event held at Nairobi’s Uhuru Gardens.
Until the bell, he was involved in a 3 way tussle for the honors, with Kenya Prisons athlete, Timothy Kiptoo and Geoffrey Kirui completing the unlikely front runners.
“I wanted to just hang with the pace and when I saw the guys maintaining (the same pace) I started to increase mine. I was not having any problem; I did not plan before what I wanted to do.
“I increased the pace since I felt strong and when I realised they were not following me, I decided to go for it,” he told of his calculated racing that saw him arrive at the tape unchallenged in 35:21.5.
Kiptoo and Kirui trailed him across the finish to complete the unexpected podium in a race that scorched among others, the 2010 World Cross winner, Joseph Ebuya, the silver winner from 2008, Leonard Komon and world 5000m junior record holder, Isaiah Kiplangat Koech among other luminaries.
“It was tough out there, I saw the people I started against and knew that I had to be at my best,” the winner acknowledged the arduous task at the start.
His credential coming to the event read of a versatile distance runner with personal best of 8:02.38.
He was only 8th in his institutional cross championships on Jan. 19 and only made the Kenya Police squad after high profile withdrawals among them the winner, Geoffrey Kipsang Kamworor and runner-up Geoffrey Mutai who competed at the Ras-Al-Khaimah Half Marathon in the UAE last Friday.
Kipsang who won the race will join Kiptoo at the Kenya’s World Cross team training camp in Kigari, Embu from Wednesday after he was given wildcard selection by Athletics Kenya selectors.
Last year, Kiptoo missed out on London Olympics after he could only finish eighth at the Police track and field championships but he did run his career best over the half marathon when he won in Paderbon.
In the race for the last World Cross in Punta Umbria, he was not even in the reckoning for selection when he finished 19th during the 2011 National Cross Championships at the same venue of his triumph on Saturday.
With odds stuck against winners of the Kenya championships going on to win the World Cross, Kiptoo’s victory will at least make the world sit and take notice.