NAIROBI, Kenya, February 15- Decorated junior champion Faith Chepng’etich put together a resounding introduction into senior ranks when she humbled reigning World Cross champion, Emily Chebet, at the IAAF Permit/KCB National Cross Country Championships in Nairobi on Saturday.
After relinquishing the senior men title last year to unheralded Philemon Rono, Japan based Bedan Karoki, a sixth finisher over 10,000m at the Moscow World Championships, reclaimed the crown with a stirring final 600m victory over Leonard Barsoton, a junior World Cross silver medallist last year.
Another second medal winner from Bydgoszcz, Poland, Agnes Tirop stepped into the position vacated by Chepng’etich in emphatic fashion, completing the most commanding victory with a front-running master class in the women’s 6km junior race.
In the men’s junior 8km event, Moses Mukono outsmarted 2013 Bydgoszcz World Cross team mate, Emmanuel Bett, over the final 800m as Kenya selected 24 athletes to represent her at the Mar. 15 CAA Africa Cross Country Championships in Kampala, Uganda.
Foreign runners, including six from China, two from Ethiopia, four from Bahrain, a Ugandan and two from Eritrea took part but were drowned under the onslaught of the home runners.
Despite lacking the lustre brought by the chase for the biennial World Cross that is in its gap year, the four races on the cards at Nairobi’s Uhuru Gardens under clear sunny skies, the 36th edition of the meeting still served riveting action.
The headline act is undoubtedly Chepng’etich, who racked up two World Cross, World Junior and World Youth titles on her first National Cross Country Championships as a senior.
“I was very tense before the race since it was my first time but as we came towards the end, my body felt strong and I went for it. I was not expecting to win here but this will give me the morale to go to Uganda and chase the gold,” the 20-year-old who prevailed in a three-way battle for the honours beamed after the race.
Little-known Kenya Prisons runner, Peris Chepchirchir, who won the Nike Discovery Cross Country race a fortnight ago pushed to the lead in a burst that staggered the field with half of the women 8km senior showdown gone.
Behind her, Chebet, the two-time World Cross gold medallist and Africa Cross silver winner in 2012, Chepng’etich, former national junior champion, Janet Kisa and Defence Forces runner, Jemimah Chelagat, kept close tabs.
At the bell, Chepchirchir was still pushing for the upset with the two champions from Poland trailing her but with 400m to go; Chepng’etich made her move, deploying the afterburners to cut the tape in 26:10 for victory as the upstart held on for silver two seconds adrift with Chebet taking the third medal in 26:14.
“My body simply refused today, it did not happen for me,” Chebet offered.
The corresponding 12km men’s race was a battle of wits between the experienced Karoki and Barsoton who was out to make a huge impression on his first outing as a senior when the pair broke loose of the challengers on the 6km mark.
With Barsoton bravely holding on to the lead at the bell, Karoki, 23, pushed ahead of the youngster in the final kilometre before accelerating for the win in 34:55 over the last 400m as the junior silver medallist stopped the clock in 35:02 for second.
“This win gives me confidence that I’m in good shape to try the world half marathon record most likely in Lisbon and do well in 10,000m at the Commonwealth Games later.
“Those are my targets for this year so I excused myself from the Africa Cross Country team. It was a tough race against Leonard but in the end, experience helped but he will be a good runner but I wanted my title back,” Karoki declared.
Philip Kiprono (35:07), Cornelius Kangogo (35:12) and Solomon Kirwa (35:18) came ahead of sixth-placed defending champion Rono (35:20) in that order.
The 2010 World Cross champion, Joseph Ebuya, as well as foreign entries from Bahrain, Uganda, Ethiopia and Eritrea dropped out of the race as the intensity grew.
World Cross titleholder, Japheth Korir, the 2011 World Cross junior champion, Geoffrey Kipsang and New York Marathon champion, Geoffrey Mutai, were among the top athletes listed at the start that opted out from the start.
“They came here and requested permission not to run since they have races abroad and we agreed to let them since we would still have a strong team for the Africa Cross in Kampala,” Athletics Kenya vice-president in charge of administration, David Okeyo, explained.
Tirop (19:21), who played bridesmaid to Chepng’etich here and Bydgoszcz, last year, ascended to the throne by annihilating the field for a crushing 15-second victory over her nearest challenger, Lilian Kasait (19:36) with no one able to live with the Form 1 student at Kosirai Day Secondary School.
“I wanted to step into Faith’s shoes and I trained well to do it and I’m confident I can now go to Uganda and bring gold for my country like her,” the winner who strung her sixth successive victory this season told.
“It is my wish to repeat what she has done at the World Junior Championships later this year,” she added.
Namesakes and Southern Branch team mates Nancy Nzisa and Mbithe Nzisa went toe-to-toe for the final podium place settled in favour of the former 19:37 against 19:38.
Having finished 11th at the World Cross last year and eighth at the Barcelona World Junior Championships (5000m) in 2012, Mukono had a lot to prove in his final season as an age runner.
Mukono shifted base from Iten where he trained with Maasai tribesman and world 800m record holder, David Rudisha, to Nairobi where he is preparing for his final year O-level exams at Riruta Satellite School.
Facing the challenge of Poland team mate Bett who finished 22nd in Bydgoszcz, the third finisher here last year shifted the gears over the last half a kilometre to close the win in 23:04, two seconds ahead of the contender.
“Since I came to Nairobi, I train by myself and have to balance my school work with athletics. I cannot promise a gold medal in Kampala but I will do my best.
“My other target is to qualify for the World Juniors in America and get a medal in my last year as a junior,” Mukono asserted.
Apart from Karoki and James Mwangi, who finished sixth in the junior men’s race before doubts were raised about his age, Kenya selected all other top-six finishers in the Africa Cross Country team.
David Letting will lead the squad as the head coach in his fourth year in the role with Cornelius Manyara and Gregory Kilonzo, Mukono’s coach at Riruta, as his assistants.
Senior men 12km
1. Bedan Karoki 34:55.2
2. Leonard Barsoton 35:02.2
3. Philip Kiprono Langat 35:07.1
4. Cornelius Kangogo 35:12.6
5. Solomon Kirwa Yego 35:17.5
6. Philemon Rono 35:19.8
7. Joseph Kitur 35:26.3
8. Julius Kogo 35:29.0
9. John Melly 35:37.0
10. John Mangangi 35:43.3
Senior women 8km
1. Faith Chepng’etich 26:09.7
2. Peris Chepchirchir 26:11.7
3. Emily Chebet 26:14.4
4. Jemimah Chelagat 26:26.4
5. Janet Kisa 26:31.3
6. Beatrice Mutai 26:35.0
7. Alice Aprot 26:39.2
8. Edith Chelimo 26:40.4
9. Sharon Cherop 26:44.3
10. Mercy Cherono 26:51.2
Junior men 8km
1. Moses Mukono 23:04.0
2. Emmanuel Bett 23:06.1
3. Andrew Loret 23:16.3
4. John Langat 23:21.1
5. Elvis Cheboi 23:21.3
6. James Mwangi 23:21.7
7. Hillary Langat 23:22.6
8. Davis Kiplangat 23:30.0
9. Mike Sang 23:31.1
10. Katui Muia 23:39.5
Junior women 6km
1. Agnes Chebet 19:21.0
2. Lilian Kasait 19:35.7
3. Nancy Nzisa 19:37.1
4. Mbithe Nzisa 19:37.8
5. Rosefline Chepng’etich 19:47.6
6. Loyce Chemnung 19:47.0
7. Linah Jeruto 19:57.6
8. Jackline Chepkoech 19:58.1
9. Gloria Kite 20:00.8
10. Miriam Muthoni 20:16.0