Japheth Korir completed the perfect ending to a great sporting weekend for Kenya with a tactful running master class that dethroned Ethiopia’s Imane Merga as the King of the World Cross in Bydgoszcz, Poland on Sunday.
Emily Chebet’s second senior women gold and Faith Chepng’etich’s successful defence of the junior women title in addition to senior women and junior women team titles once again established Kenya as the dominant force in the now biennial distance running showpiece that ran in freezing conditions at the tough Myslecinek Park course.
Facing an imposing field, Korir, 19, timed his running to perfection, nosing ahead of the field on the penultimate lap before dispatching the challenge of Merga and Eritrea’s Gebremariam Tekremedhin for the gold in 32:45. He was amazingly, the only Kenyan in the top-ten.
He thus followed in the illustrious footsteps of John Ngugi, Paul Tergat, William Sigei and Joseph Ebuya in being crowned the senior men 12km champion, the Holy Grail of the World Cross and the first runner outside the Kenya Defence Forces to bag the coveted crown.
Merga (32:51) and Medhin (32:54) filled the minor podium places behind the winner who was making his debut as a senior having won junior bronze at the last edition in Punta Umbria, Spain two years ago.
And in what is bound to resurrect flagging interest in the competition that was previously an annual affair, USA pushed Kenya down to bronze in the race for the team title won by Ethiopia.
Americans Ben True (33:11) in sixth and Chris Derrick (33:23) in tenth joined Collins Birmingham (33:18) from Australia who was seventh as the three runners from outside East Africa that occupied the top-ten in the men’s long race.
Having missed Punta Umbria due to injury and a loss of form, Chebet returned to the same city she made her name three years ago and executed another come from behind mugging act to seal her second senior women 8km world title in 24:24.
Chebet, who incidentally placed fourth at the 16 February Kenyan Trials just as in 2010, reeled in Ethiopia’s Hiwot Ayalew, who had taken charge of the race from midway point and out-sprinted her for glory.
In 2010, she did the same on compatriot Linet Masai who was missing from Poland with injury as the deflated Ayalew (24:27) and compatriot Belaynesh Oljira (24:33) took silver and bronze. The team title went to Kenya.
Action began on the snowy course with Chepng’etich crowning her last World Cross as a junior by becoming only the third ever woman to hold on to the 6km title replicating fellow countrywoman Viola Kibiwot in 2001 and 2002, and Ethiopia’s Genzebe Dibaba in 2008 and 2009. Kibiwot was seventh in the senior race.
Contesting three laps over a frozen and snow-covered 6km course, Kipyegon initially held back after the gun, sitting in fifth place with her teammate 17-year-old Agnes Chebet Tirop and Ethiopia’s Ruti Aga, the World junior 5000m silver medallist at the fore of the field.
Striding out over an undulating route with a few patches of bare grass in below-zero temperatures, Kipyegon – who also won the World junior 1500m title on the track last summer – joined Tirop at the front of the leading pack at just after the first kilometre.
Just under a kilometre remaining, Ethiopian trials winner Heroye rejoined the pair only for the Kenyans to pull clear again up final the long uphill stretch and then, on the decline, Kipyegon showed an impressive change of pace to sprint away from her compatriot in the final 300m for victory.
The winner eased off in the final few metres and Tirop was awarded the same time of 17.51 for the silver medal as Heroye hung on and crossed the line six seconds adrift to take third place.
Further back, Kenya’s Caroline Chepkoech Kipkirui finished fourth in 18:09 with early leader Aga fifth in 18:18.
Ethiopia’s Hagos Gebrhiwet (21:04) won the junior men’s title from Kenya’s long-time race leader Leonard Barsoton as he underlined his status as the favourite having come in as a world junior record holder.
Barsoton crossed the line four seconds after Gebrhiwet in 21:08 to take an unexpected silver medal, after only being the second man home at the Kenyan trials last month, while Muktar Edris hung on to take the bronze medal in 21:13.
LEADING RESULTS (Kenyan unless stated)
Senior men 12km
1. Japheth Korir 32:45
2. Imane Merga (ETH) 32:51
3. Teklemariam Medhin (ERI) 32:54
4. Moses Kipsiro (UGA) 33:08
5. Timothy Toroitich (UGA) 33:09
6. Ben True (USA) 33:11
7. Goitom Kifle (ERI) 33:16
8. Collis Birmingham (AUS) 33:18
9. Feyisa Lilesa (ETH) 33:22
10. Chris Derrick (USA) 33:23
Senior women 8km
1. Emily Chebet 24:24
2. Hiwot Ayalew (ETH) 24:27
3. Belaynesh Oljira (ETH) 24:33
4. Shitaye Eshete (BRN) 24:34
5. Margaret Wangari 24:39
6. Janet Kisa 24:46
7. Viola Kibiwot 24:46
8. Tejitu Daba (BRN) 24:55
9. Juliet Chekwel (UGA) 24:58
10. Irene Chebet 25:01
Junior men 8km
1. Hagos Gebrhiwet (ETH) 21:04
2. Leonard Barsoton 21:08
3. Muktar Edris (ETH) 21:13
4. Tsegay Tuemay (ERI) 21:26
5. Conseslus Kipruto 21:40
6. Birhan Nebebew (ETH) 21:42
7. Ghirmay Ghebreslassie (ERI) 21:50
8. Dawit Weldesilasie (ERI) 21:58
9. Ronald Kwemoi 21:58
10. Michael Bett 22:21
Junior women 6km
1. Faith Chepng’etich 17:51
2. Agnes Jebet Tirop 17:51
3. Alemitu Heroye (ETH) 17:57
4. Caroline Chepkoech 18:09
5. Ruti Aga (ETH) 18:18
6. Sofiya Shemsu (ETH) 18:20
7. Rosefline Chepng’etich 18:21
8. Sheila Chepng’etich 18:21
9. Buze Diriba (ETH) 18:29
10. Alemitu Hawi (ETH) 18:35