NAIROBI, Kenya, March 17 – The triumphant 2014 Africa Cross Country Championships team arrived from their stomping ground in Kampala Monday with its stars promising more of the same at other international engagements this season.
Kenya swept all eight gold medals in another commanding performance that left 25 other nations that took part with no choice than to bow to the kings.
Upon arrival, the squad of 24 runners and seven officials were treated to a sumptuous luncheon in their honour as they reveled in their crowning achievement at the Kololo Ceremonial Grounds on Sunday afternoon.
In a repeat of their achievement at the 2010 World Cross and 2011 Africa Cross, the team won four individual and four team gold medals. Only the junior men bronze and junior women silver individual medals eluded their grasp as they embarked on total domination.
Having ascended to four world titles and two continental crowns as a junior, all eyes were on two-time World Cross junior titleholder, Faith Chepng’etich and she did not disappoint, delivering the top medal on her first foray as a senior in cross country.
“The race had a lot of challenges since we had to go through hills and valleys but our main aim was to lock out Ethiopians and ensure their first athlete comes in seventh. It was so nice seeing only Kenyans competing for the top three positions, it wasn’t easy but we tried our strategy and it worked.
“I’m happy because I graduated well from junior to senior since it’s not easy to go through all the stages from Youth to senior and win,” the 20-years-old who captained the senior women team told Capital Sport having won her race in 25:33.02 ahead of teammates Janet Kisa (25:41.30), Alice Aprot (25:46.48) and Edith Chelimo (26:02.48) who sealed the perfect ten.
The former Winners’ High School student has set her sights at medalling at the Scotland Commonwealth Games this summer having failed to scale the podium at the London 2012 Olympics and Moscow 2013 World Championships.
“I will give it my best and make sure I and Hellen Obiri, who won bronze at 2013 Moscow World Championships bring medals to our country if we will make it to the squad.”
The corresponding long race champion, Leonard Barsoton, who also graduated to senior running after winning World Cross junior silver in Poland last year, has trained his guns on the 10000m during the Commonwealth Games/Africa Athletics Championships Trials as he soaked adulation for his performance.
“We approached the race with a plan where we started by blocking our opponents and ensured all our colleagues leads the race. I decided to open the gap since I thought someone could come from no where and scoop me the victory and I thank God since there was no stiff competition and I’m so happy that all the top-five spot were claimed by Kenyans,” the Japan based athlete enthused.
Barsoton (34:26) breast the tape unchallenged with Cornelius Kangogo (34:56), Philemon Rono (35:02), Solomon Kirwa (35:15) and Philip Langat (35:20) finishing in that order to complete yet another perfect 10.
In yet another notable first for the Kampala contingent, Moses Mukono and Agnes Jebet won the men and women junior titles ensuring all national champions returned home with the top medal. Previously, winning the Kenyan championship has always been a yoke many have struggled to remove from their necks at subsequent international competitions.
“I feel happy for making my country proud and as we were in Uganda I expected stiff competition from Ethiopia, Uganda and Eritrea but after two kilometers I realized there was no competitor and I easily broke away and won.
“This was my last cross country for junior and I’m very happy because this will give me motivation and encouragement to prepare for the senior and I hope to do well,” the African junior 5000m champion Mukono, who is on his last lap as a junior this season, gushed.
Eritrea’s Berhane Afewerki (22:56.45) worked his way among the Kenyans to nick individual bronze in the only ‘blot’ of a splendid performance as Mukono (22:36.80) and Andrew Lorot (22:50.19) arrived home for gold and silver.
Namesakes Kiprono (22:58.70) and Kipkemoi (23:01.97) sealed the team honours by finishing fourth and fifth.
The Kampala gold rush was set off by Agnes Tirop, who succeeded Chepng’etich as national junior women 6km cross titleholder having been led by the senior titleholder to the altar in Bydgoszcz last year.
She is not afraid of mixing it with the seniors as she eyes a slot in the national team for the Commonwealth Games over 5000m, a distance she won World Junior bronze in Barcelona.
“I did not expect to win gold since the competition was no that easy but I’m happy for this victory. I’m now planning for Commonwealth Games where I hope to make it to the team and compete in 5000m,” the gold winner who clocked 18:50.74 for victory after shrugging off the spirited challenge of Ethiopian silver winner and favourite, Alemitu Heroye (19:04.73) said.
Compatriots Nancy Nzisa (19:16.18), Rosefline Chepngetich (19:39.71) and Kasait Rengeruk (19:50.74) trooped home in that order to occupy the next three places to secure the team title.
Head coach David Letting, applauded his charges tipping them to form the core of future Kenya teams to international events such as World Youth and Youth Olympics Games scheduled for Nanjing, China in August.
“We registered fantastic results and winning all eight gold medals in Kampala, this was a repeat in Poland where we clinched all the medals at the World Cross Country.
“This is a future team for Kenya and I’m urging all coaches and officials to retain and monitor them since they are capable of representing the country Olympics games in 2016. All are under 22 years.”
Athletic Kenya (AK) President Isaiah Kiplagat, urged coaches and agents not to expose young athletes to many races to avoid them burning out before they build careers.
“This was splendid performance since they went there prepared and came out victorious. We have beaten the world and Africa so the only problem is to maintain the spirit of winning.
“Our athletes who won in Kampala are very young and this is their first ladder so I can comfortable say we have a team to depend on in future,” he expressed.
“I’m pleading to the coaches please don’t destroy the athletes before they attain their potential to represent the country by taking them to many competitions since they have to be around for at least some time to survive in this sport.
“I urge all young athletes not to rush into being registered by agents since they should space their competitions and programmes and avoid running now and then in different road races,” the AK chief added.