Kirui Shocks Kamworor, Obiri Reigns In Dramatic National XC Trials

Feb 23 - by SPN Correspondent for SportPesa News

Chebole and Chebet clinch men and women under 20 titles to lead the Team Kenya queue for 2019 Aarhus World Cross in front of a record crowd in Eldoret

New national cross country champion, Amos Kirui, winning the senior men 10km race at the Eldoret Sports Club on Saturday, February 23, 2018. PHOTO/Courtesy

  • Samuel Chebole and Beatrice Chebet carried the day in the corresponding men and women under 20 races as the four winners led the Team Kenya queue for the 2019 IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Aarhus, Denmark
  • In its true fashion, the event reputed as the ‘mini World Cross’ threw its share of thrills, spills and upsets- none bigger than the humbling of the Kampala 2017 and Guiyang 2015 World Cross winner- with Athletics Kenya (AK) naming 30 runners as the country’s flag bearers for the March 30 global showpiece at the end of it all
  • Deborah Samum edged out Commonwealth Games seventh finisher Eva Cherono in the frenetic race for fourth place and the last automatic ticket for Aarhus with the clocks returning 34:06 against 34:10. Such were the thin margins

ELDORET, Kenya- Former world Under 20 steeplechase champion, Amos Kirui stunned three-time World Cross champion, Geoffrey Kamworor as Hellen Obiri fulfilled her favourite role to perfection in the men and women senior races of the thrilling 2019 National Cross Country Championships/Trials on Saturday in front of a record crowd at the Eldoret Sports Club.

Samuel Chebole and Beatrice Chebet carried the day in the corresponding men and women under 20 races as the four winners led the Team Kenya queue for the 2019 IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Aarhus, Denmark.

The self-styled ‘City of Champions’, came to a standstill on a cool and sometimes overcast afternoon when it hosted the Cross Country Trials for the first time ever where the best distance running talent battled for places in Team Kenya for the 2019 IAAF World Cross in Aarhus, Denmark.

Deputy President, Dr. William Samoei Ruto was the guest of honour at the star-studded event where established and new members of the athletics loyalty gathered to witness dreams being made at the northern Kenyan town that is reputed as the capital of distance running. Host governor, Jackson Mandago and fellow county chiefs Stephen Sang (Nandi) and Alex Torgos (Elgeyo Marakwet) led the political leadership from the heartland of Kenya's distance running. 

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In its true fashion, the event reputed as the ‘mini World Cross’ threw its share of thrills, spills and upsets- none bigger than the humbling of the Kampala 2017 and Guiyang 2015 World Cross winner- with Athletics Kenya (AK) naming 30 runners as the country’s flag bearers for the March 30 global showpiece at the end of it all.

People started congregating at the Eldoret Sports Club venue as early as 10am, more than five hours to the start of the opening race, the six kilometre junior women race and by the time the gun went off, history was made as it attracted the largest crowd ever witnessed for a domestic cross country meeting.

Hellen Obiri wins the national senior women 10km title at the Eldoret Sports Club on Saturday, February 23, 2019. PHOTO/Courtesy

With traditional dancers and a Kenya Prisons Service band punctuating the cool afternoon with musical entertainment, action finally got underway with Chebet, the World Under 20 women 5000m champion underlined her supremacy when she obliterated the field to win the Under 20 national cross crown in 20:02.

Betty Jepkemoi (20:31) and Jackline Rotich (20:40) took the minor podium positions with Agnes Mwikali (20:42) nicking the last automatic ticket for Aarhus in finishing fourth.

Younger sibling

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In the corresponding men 8km under 20 race, Chebole, the younger sibling of 1500m sensation Ronald Kwemoi detached himself from the field in the penultimate of four laps to complete another dominant victory in 24:10, with Emmanuel Kiprotich (24:18) leading the challengers home for silver as Leonard Bett (24:25) and Edwin Koskey (24:26) dipping for third and fourth.

With the juniors out of the way, it was time for the seniors 10km races to take the centre stage with the women going out first.

All eyes were on Obiri, the Rio 2016 silver winner who is gunning to add the World Cross title to her enviable collection and she did not disappoint.

Taking the race by the scruff of the neck in the immaculate course with a hard underfoot and mud barriers, Obiri simply motored away from the competition to complete the final three laps almost unchallenged as she completed a crushing victory in 33:15.

“The course was muddy and competitive but I was determined to do my best to qualify for Denmark at all costs. Ahead of the race I had seen (Celliphine) Chespol and (Lilian) Kasait were my biggest threats,” Obiri remarked after hammering the field to submission.

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“It is my first time to run at the World Cross and I promise Kenya a medal. I decided to enter the World Cross to get the only medal missing in my cabinet because of age. I think I will be too old when the next World Cross comes in 2021,” the London 2017 champion added.

Initial worries

Obiri’s initial worries proved to be unfounded in the end, with Chespol, the two-time steeplechase Under 20 and Africa Under 20 Cross titleholder, crashing out of the top 10 altogether as Kasait, a silver medallist at the last World Cross in Kampala being forced down the finish order to seventh (34:13).

Instead, Commonwealth Games 10,000m fourth finisher, Beatrice Mutai (33:24) was the closest challenger to Obiri, opening up a gap in second before coming home after the winner with world women 3000m steeplechase record holder, Beatrice Chepkoech (33:55) taking the bronze.

Deborah Samum edged out Commonwealth Games seventh finisher Eva Cherono in the frenetic race for fourth place and the last automatic ticket for Aarhus with the clocks returning 34:06 against 34:10. Such were the thin margins.

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The biggest story of the afternoon was saved for the last event of the day when Kamworor, who fell in love with cross country running when he stormed to the Under 20 title in Punta Umbria, Spain in 2011 put his massive reputation on the line with Tampere 2018 World Under 20 gold medallist, Rhonex Kipruto, installed as the main challenger.

"I have been preparing for this race for the last four months. I'm glad to have beaten big athletes like Zakayo (Pingua) and Kamworor. My plan was to stay behind them and then release my finishing kick in the final lap and I'm glad it worked out," Kirui who took the Under 20 gold in Bydgoszcz, Poland gushed after his momentous win that hushed the crowd into silence.

As the race developed, Kipruto was the first to lay down a marker half way through before Kamworor, in his tried and tested fashion went in front with two laps to go. However, after the bell, it became clear a huge shock was building with the three-time World Half winner failing to shake off the pursuing challengers.

Then it happened. With 600m to go, Japan based Kirui shot to the lead with a devastating turn of pace that carried him to the finish in front of all in 29:51, with Evans Keitany (29:57) and Kwemoi- whose younger sibling carried the day in the men Under 20- closing the podium in 29:59 in a frenetic finish.

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Shell-shocked Kamworor (30:04) finished fifth, just outside the last automatic ticket that was claimed by Richard Kimunyan (30:00) with Kipruto (30:08) coming home in sixth, as once again the Kenyan trials proved to be the graveyard of the greats.

National Under 20 women cross country champion, Beatrice Chebet, after winning the junior 6km race at the Eldoret Sports Club on Saturday, February 23, 2018. PHOTO/Courtesy

-Report by Erick Ochieng' and Mutwiri Mutuota

Leading results

Junior women 6km

1. Beatrice Chebet 20:02

2. Betty Jepkemoi 20:31

3. Jackline Rotich 20:40

4. Agnes Mwikali 20:42

5. Lydia Jeruto 20:44

6. Mercy Chepkorir 20:47

7. Roselinda Jepketer 20:52

8. Mercy Cherop 20:55

9. Mercy Chepkurui 21:04

10. Carren Chebet 21:09

Junior men 8km

1. Samuel Chebole 24:10

2. Emmanuel Kiprotich 24:18

3. Leonard Bett 24:25

4. Edwin Koskey 24:26

5. Charles Karuri 24:31

6. Kibet Kandie 24:34

7. Peter Kamau 24:40

8. Simon Saidiam 24:42

9. Kiprono Sitonik 24:45

Women senior 10km

1. Hellen Obiri 33:15

2. Beatrice Mutai 33:24

3. Beatrice Chepkoech 33:55

4. Deborah Samum 34:06

5. Eva Cherono 34:10

6. Lillian Kasait 34:14

7. Jackline Cherotich 34:21

8. Hyvin Kiyeng 34:24

9. Edith Jelimo 34:28

10. Irene Kamais 34:48

Men senior 10km

1. Amos Kirui 29:51

2. Evans Keitany 29:57

3. Rodgers Kwemoi 29:59

4. Richard Kimunyan 30:00

5. Geoffrey Kamworor 30:03

6. Rhonex Kipruto 30:08

7. Emmanuel Bor 30:19

8. Paul Tanui 30:23

9. Vedic Cheruiyot 30:28

10. Josphat Bett 30:29