NAIROBI, Kenya, March 27- The all-conquering World Cross team returned home to a stirring welcome as family members joined dignitaries in receiving the squad that made the national anthem the signature tune of Bydgoszcz, Poland last Sunday.
From the airport to the five-star Intercontinental Hotel in Nairobi, a facility that has hosted among other luminaries the former US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, the team sparked off a joyous outpouring of emotion upon touchdown on Tuesday afternoon.
Japheth Korir, Emily Chebet and Faith Chepng’etich, who powered to individual gold medals in the senior men 12km, senior women 8km and junior women 6km lapped most of the attention as relatives, friends, dignitaries and a battery of journalists tripped over themselves to offer their adulation.
“I never expected to win, it was a shocker to me and I’m very happy to be the winner. The run was challenging due to the weather, however that did not deter my victory, I thank God,” Korir who completed a brilliant individual run to dethrone Ethiopia’s Imane Merga from the senior men 12km throne said.
“I will train hard to defend my title (in 2015) and I’m now looking forward to try the 5000m for the World Championships in Moscow,” the fifth Kenyan after John Ngugi, Paul Tergat (both five-time winners), William Sigei (twice) and Joseph Ebuya to bag the Holy Grail of World Cross running added.
Chebet, who had daughter Zera Cherono and husband Edward Muge waiting for her at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport could not hide the joy of her second come-from-behind victory at the World Cross in Poland.
“When the margin between me and Ayalew grew wider, I was scared but deep down determined to do my best and all the hard work I put has been rewarded,” she said with gusto as she recalled how she caught up long-time frontrunner, Hiwot Ayalew and reeled her in with the final bend approaching for her second World Cross title.
“I am planning to participate at the Worlds in Moscow and I hope success will follow me there,” she added, having caused a heart warming scene at the airport when her fellow-athlete spouse carried her chest-high at the terminal with daughter Cherono on his other hand.
Later on, the 24 runners were driven to a sumptuous sponsor’s dinner where they were awarded Sh1.4m ($16,279) in prize money, with gold winners taking home Sh200,000 ($2,326), Sh100,000 ($1,163) for the second medal, Sh50,000 ($575) for bronze and the rest of the squad getting Sh30,000 ($345) for effort.
“I am very proud of the team, they have given us the spirit will and hope in preparation for the upcoming World Championships in August,” Athletics Kenya boss, Isaiah Kiplagat gushed at the dinner.
He disclosed the marathon team for Moscow would be named next week with the ultimate distance runners linking up with their team mates when the Trials are held in July.
Besides the three individual gold winners, Leonard Barsoton and Alice Cherono collected silver medals in the junior men 8km and junior women 6km races with the senior women and junior women squads winning the team top medals.
The junior men line-up bagged team silver with their senior men counterparts winning bronze.