NAIROBI, Kenya, Feb 18 – Leonard Barsoton, the 2013 World Cross Country silver medalist stunned defending World Cross Country champion Geoffrey Kamworor and silver medalist Bedan Karoki to win the 2017 National title and lead a group of six Kenyan athletes to this year’s showpiece in Kampala, Uganda.
The Kenya Police athlete cut the tape in 28:56.3 ahead of Karoki who timed 29:02.3 while World Champion Kamworor who is also the World Half Marathon Champion finished third in 29:03.4.
“I have lost to the two three times before and when I came to this race, I said I must try and beat them. It was tough but I am glad I managed to have the strength to win especially in the final 2km. They were worthy opponents and really pushed me to win,” Barsoton told Capital Sport after winning the race.
Having finished fifth in the last championship in Guiyang, China in 2015, Barsoton now hopes toppling the two giants will carry with him some good luck heading to Uganda where he hopes to win gold as Kenya looks to defend her title.
The 22-year old who has been training in Japan for the last five years has some good memories of Kampala having won the African cross country title in the Uganda capital in 2014.
“I am hoping things are going to be like they were then. It is some good luck and hopefully, I now train harder to ensure that I am ready. As a team, we have picked some very good athletes and we will work together to retain the team title,” he added.
It was a tight race from the onset and the men were only separated from the boys on the 6km mark. The huge leading pack consisting of almost 20 athletes had stuck together for the first three loops until Kamworor, Barsoton and Karoki led a group out in the final 2km bend.
Barsoton managed to pull out with close to a kilometer left, and despite surging efforts, Karoki could not catch up as he failed to match with the youthful kicks of Barsoton.
Vincent Rono finished fourth while 2008 World Cross silver medalist Leonard Komon finished fifth. Leonard Lagat completed the top six, sealing a spot in the plane to Kampala.
In the women’s corresponding race, Irene Cheptai emerged victorious after crossing the tape in 31:47.5 ahead of African champion Alice Aprot who finished fourth, reigning World Champion Agnes Tirop who finished fifth and Olympic 1500m champion Faith Chepng’etich who finished third.
However, the women were forced to work hard as the women’s race had been extended to 10km from the usual 8km and among those who were caught out was African Champion Aprot.
“In my mind I knew it was 8km and I think that was what cost me the victory. I really used a lot of energy in the fourth loop thinking it was the last,” Aprot said after the race.
Cheptai put in a powerful kick in the final 200m of the race to wade off a late challenge from Chepng’etich and 2013 World Youth 3000m champion Lilian Kasait who finished second.
The wheat was separated from the chaff after 6km with Aprot, Tirop, Cheptai and Chepng’etich breaking away from the leading pack. It turned out to be a three horse race in the final kilometer with Cheptai Kasait and Chepng’etich engaging in a stiff battle for the honors.
“The weather was perfect for this race because it wasn’t so hot. To be honest I didn’t really plan to win the raced. All I wanted to do was get a place in the final team. However, I am happy that I got to win and I am hoping I can do the same in Kampala,” Chepsait, still drenched in the sweat from the battle blubbered after winning.
World 300m steeplechase champion Hyvin Kiyeng who was making her first attempt at the cross country finished sixth, making it into the final team.
“I just came here to gauge myself and test my endurance but I ended up doing well. If I am given a chance in the team, I will go there and do my best. Even if I won’t win any medal, I will try help the team to get something.
Meanwhile, this year’s World Cross Country Championship will see the mixed four by two kilometer relay introduced for the first time.
Kenyan team to Kampala:
Senior men: Leonard Barsoton, Bedan Karoki, Geoffrey Kamworor, Vincent Rono, Leonard Komon, Leonard Lagat
Senior women: Irene Cheptai, Lilian Kasait, Faith Chepng’etich, Alice Aprot, Agnes Tirop, Hyvin Kiyeng
Junior men: Richard Kimunyan, Meshak Kyuguti, Wesley Ladema, Edwin Kiplagat, Amos Kirui, Ronald Kirui
Junior women: Sandrafeline Chebet, Celliphine Chepteek, Sheila Chelangat, Emmaculate Chepkirui, Joyline Cherotich, Esther Muthoni