JOHANNESBURG, February 17- With 800m to go, a turn of devastating acceleration was all Japan-based Bedan Karoki needed to finally dispose of the stern challenge of World Half Marathon titleholder, Geoffrey Kipsang Kamworor and hold on to his Kenyan cross country title senior men 12km title in a blistering finish to an intense contest.
With that, Karoki headed the queue of Kenya’s squad that will aim at retaining the Holy Grail of the World Cross in Guiyang, China next month hoping to make history and finally snap the jinx of successive domestic champions failing to add the senior 12km at the global showpiece.
Winning the signature race at an event dubbed mini-World Cross has duly accorded Karoki the spotlight ahead of the global showpiece that will be held on March 28 as he hopes to buck a baffling trend.
At the Bydgoszcz World Cross last term, Philemon Rono went in as the Kenyan champion only to finish 36th where unheralded Japheth Korir stunned everyone to become the country’s fifth senior men titleholder.
“The race was tough but I gave myself the heart to succeed since we had tough guys running here again. This time around, I will not let the chance (to run for my country) go. I have enough stamina and I believe I will do well at the World Cross,” Karoki said after completing the dry course in 35:08 to hold on to the crown he won last year where he declined to compete for his nation at the Africa Cross Country Championships in Kampala.
Legendary five-time World Cross champions, John Ngugi (1986) and Paul Tergat (1995 and 96) are the only athletes in the distinguished history of Kenya at World Cross to return with the biggest prize home after winning domestic trials.
Major Paul Koech, who bettered Tergat on three occasions at home, never won the World Cross whilst in the last five editions Rono (2013), Geoffrey Mutai (2011), Paul Tanui (2010), Moses Mosop (2009) and Gideon Ngatuny (2008) all failed to turn local dominance to global victory.
“I have enough endurance in the 12K this year and I’m looking forward to do something in China. I knew no one would follow me through in the last 1K and when they relented, I went for it. I had lost hope but after recovering, I did some training and came here determined to make the team,” Karoki, who missed three weeks of training, last month with a stomach acid infection, added.
He is determined to become only the second athlete from Nyahururu to bag the World Cross title after Ngugi and he has been receiving tips from the first man in history to win it five times before Tergat matched the feat and Ethiopia’s Kenenisa Bekele went one better as the most decorated champion at the now biennial global showpiece.
“Sometimes I speak to him and he tells me cross country is the best build-up to the track season and it would make me proud to achieve what he did. He gives me important tips on how to approach big races,” Karoki, 24, who is targeting a place in the 10,000m team for summers’ World Championship in Beijing, explained.
His manager, Federico Rosa, of the Italian based Rosa Associati firm believes his client has what it takes to translate his commanding form at home into global success.
“He’s much focused and this was the plan from what we discussed with his coach to be ready for cross country and win the title in China. The World Cross will be a good a good target for his debut in the marathon and this is a good sign.
“It would be very important for him as the second person from his area to win the World Cross title but it will be difficult to do it but he is determined. He was sick but he recovered and showed he is a smart guy who knows what do,” Rosa explained.