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Team tactics won it for Kenya

From high up on the central stand at the Qingzhen Training Base, venue of 41st World Cross Country Championships that was held on Saturday, the view is stunning.

The background is dominated by rolling hills covered heavily with trees in full bloom giving the impression of a natural paradise. Pristine would best fit the description.

The course that seamlessly fitted into the ecosystem, immaculate and alluring with its shortly cut  grace green and lush, invited runners to walk on it.

Overnight rain had softened the ground but there was no sign of puddles meaning, even with the tight twist and turns, dips and rises, there would be hard running here on Saturday.

And indeed there was as Kenyan runners stamped their authority in the championships by claiming both the senior men’s and senior women’s races while Ethiopia won the junior titles.

Kenya and Ethiopia won amongst them all the individual and team gold medals.

In the prelude to the championships IAAF President Lamine Diack, at a press conference, urged other nations to work harder and catch up with Kenya and Ethiopia.

BREAK THE DOMINANCE

On the evidence of the two nations’ performances in Guiyang, the rest of the world’s work is cut out for them to break this dominance.

Geoffrey Kipsang (34 minutes 52 seconds) led compatriot Bedan Karoki (35:00) to a 1-2 finish in the men’s race to ensure Kenya claimed both silver and gold, a feat they last achieved in 1999 when Paul Tergat won the last of his then record five consecutive gold medals, followed in second place by Patrick Ivuti.

Baby-faced 19-year-old Agnes Jebet (26:01) impressively won the senior women’s gold extending Kenya’s hold on the title to five years from 1999 when Florence Jebet, no relation, triumphed in 2009 at the Al Bisharat Golf Course in Amman to end a 14-year drought.

“We knew the Ethiopians had planned well for us but we also had our plan,” said experienced Kenya head coach David Leting.

“We worked on our team tactics and the guys really paid attention and co-operated. Everybody followed instructions. This was great team work.”

Kenya’s Isaac Korir hit the front like a startled rabbit running from danger when the gun sounded and was soon joined by compatriot Moses Letoiye while others runners jostled for position in the early stages.

Entering the second 2km-lap, Bahraini Albert Rop briefly took the lead then Ugandan Moses Kibet, junior bronze medallist in Amman 2009, before the front running Kipsang surged forward pulling along Kenya champion  Karoki and the dangerous Ethiopians Muktar Edris, the 2012 World Junior Athletics Championships 5,000m gold medallist and Hagos Gebrhiwet, junior men champion in Bydgoszcz 2013.

BURSTS OF SPEED

But it is Edris who managed to keep up with the speeding Kipsang and Karoki as they poured on the pace, intermittently exchanging the lead.

“We discussed about how we would help each other. I kept on putting in bursts of speed and I could tell the Ethiopian (Edris) was feeling the punishment. By the last two kilometers I knew it would be between me and Kipsang,” Karoki, said elated with his first major international accolade.

“It did not matter who won. We worked for each other and won,” Kipsang, the 2011 junior men’s gold medallist at the Myslecinek Park in Bydgoszcz,” Poland, said.

The senior women’s race developed into a tussle between smooth running Jebet and Ethiopia’s Senbere Teferi, national 2013 3,000m junior champion from the 4km stage.
“We told her (Jebet) to just concentrate on her running. To hit the front and from the 6km mark to just go and go,” Leting said.

“I knew the top Ethiopians had a kick and just followed what my coaches told me. I kept on pushing the pace. I was not going to let any of them pass me,” said the triumphant Jebet.

Her relentless pace gave her the luxury to stride through  the home stretch unchallenged as she made a very successful entry to the senior ranks following her junior women’s silver medal in 2013.

And in an instant, Kenya became a hot name to the residents of Guiyang and the larger China where the event was broadcast live to an audience of millions.