BYDGOSZCZ, Poland, March 25- 2010 IAAF World Cross Country champion Emily Chebet enjoyed an impressive return to the top of the medals podium in winning her second global title on Sunday in Bydgoszcz, Poland, and thereby winning US$30,000 (Sh2.6m).
The 27-year-old Kenyan recreated her golden memories of the Myslecinek Park course in storming to victory ahead of Ethiopia’s Hiwot Ayalew and Belaynesh Oljira.
A total of 97 athletes from 29 countries contested the 8km course, with Chebet chasing down Olympic 3000m Steeplechase fifth placer Ayalew in the closing 200m of the race in an exhilarating finish to capture the gold in 24:24 ahead of Ayalew’s 24:27.
The pair were almost inseparable for the entire race as they joined Ireland’s European Cross Country Champion Fionnuala Britton at the head of the pack from the gun, and asserted their intentions at the front by the end of the first of four laps.
With the Kenyan contingent packing well with five runners in the top seven at the midway point, Chebet was joined by Kenyan trials winner Margaret Muriuki as she began to push on with Ayalew, who was seeking to clinch her nation’s first victory since 2008.
Indeed, the Ethiopian trials winner was determined to put an end to the Kenyan hegemony in this event and so made a brave and strong bid for home in the final 800m, establishing a presumably unassailable 50m lead going into the final steep uphill stretch.
Chebet however, had a point to prove as she had failed to qualify for her national squad for the 2011 Championships and finished only fourth in the Kenyan trial for this event. Indeed, she surprised many by reeling in the tiring Ayalew in the final 100m to sprint to an unexpected victory here once again.
A bronze medallist at the 2012 African Cross Country Championships, she showed glimmers of a return to form back in September, recording a 10km road personal best of 30:58 in Tilburg but her current cross country shape was uncertain.
The 23-year-old Ayalew additionally experienced a big improvement, progressing from 11th in the 2011 event in Punta Umbria to take the silver medal.
Further back, Olympic 10,000m fifth placer Belaynesh Oljira captured the bronze (24:33) ahead of Bahrain’s Shitaye Eshete (24:34), who placed 12th in the 2011 event and also finished just behind Oljira in the London Olympics.
The USA’s Neely Spence finished 13th (25:08) to place as top non-African, just ahead of Britton, the European indoor 3,000m bronze medallist in 14th (25:08).
In the team standings, Chebet led the Kenyan outfit to emphatic gold medal-winning display, with 19 points to Ethiopia’s 48.
It represented their fourth consecutive title in the event and again proved their dominance with all six runners inside the top 11.
Ethiopia meanwhile, collected the silver courtesy of the medal-winning performances from Ayalew and Oljira in addition to 2011 junior runner-up Genet Yalew placing 15th and having two others inside the top 30. Four-time bronze medallist Meselech Melkamu failed to finish.
In bronze, Bahrain took their first ever medal in this team event with 73 points off the back of Eshete’s fourth place finish and with Tejitu Daba in 8th.