It was yet another season that Kenyan athletes left a mark globally, recovering from their poor performance to shine in the World Cross Country Championships in Poland and the World Championships in Russia.
The country’s athletes also dominated the World Marathon Majors. Female athletes might have won all the six events in the Series, with Priscah Jeptoo winning the jackpot. But it was Wilson Kipsang’s world record-breaking run at the Berlin Marathon (2hours, 03:23min) that stood out.
A cloud of uncertainty hang over Kenya’s Cross Country camp following Team Kenya’s poor performance at the 2012 London Olympics.
The country’s reputation especially in the long distance races was in question after they missed the top podium places in marathon despite being rated highly. Kenya also performed poorly on the track, with the country managing only two gold medals as compared to the 2008 Beijing Olympics where they won six gold.
However, a good showing that almost equalled the 2008 World Cross Country Championships record at the Myslecinek Park course in Bydgoszcz, Poland, on March 24 saw Kenya save face.
Unlike in 2010 when Team Kenya swept all individual and team gold medals, they won three out of four individual titles this year, losing out to Ethiopia in the junior men’s race.
Kenyan women led their Ethiopian rivals to the altar, winning both team titles. Kenya’s junior men won silver while the senior men slumped to a shocking bronze as the USA won silver, with the Ethiopians clinching gold like their junior men.
BELOW PAR PERFORMANCE
Many anticipated a disastrous run at the World Championships that were held between August 10–18 at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow after poor selection of men’s marathon teams and the 800m squad.
The end results fell short of the performance in the 2011 Daegu Championships where they country hauled seven gold medals, six silver and four bronze medals, but the harvest of five gold medals, four silver and three bronze was a better performance in comparison to London Olympics.
The conditions at this year’s World Championships were different from those in 2010, with wintry conditions and biting cold but that didn’t stop Kenyans from delivering through individual brilliance.
After winning the junior bronze medal in 2010, Japheth Korir went a step higher to claim senior men’s 12km race. Interestingly, Korir had been dropped from the team but a quick decision from the management saw the young athlete summoned back when he was about to board a bus back to Eldoret. No other Kenyan finished in the top 10, with Hosea Macharinyang returning in 12th.
Emily Chebet, who won senior women’s 8km race in the 2010 edition but failed to make the 2011 team that saw Vivian Cheruiyot reign supreme, recaptured her crown in style. Margaret Wangare (fifth), Janet Kisa (sixth), Viola Kibiwott (seventh) finished in top 10 to wrap up the team title.
Faith Chepng’etich, touted as the future of women’s distance running in Kenya, became only the third woman to win a brace in junior women’s 6km race when she retained her title, leading Agnes Tirop to a 1-2 Kenyan finish.
The only other athletes to win a double are her compatriot Viola Kibiwot (2001 and 2002) and Ethiopia’s Genzebe Dibaba (2008 and 2009). Caroline Chepkoech (fourth) and Rosefline Chepng’etich (seventh) brought home the team title.
Ethiopian Hagos Gebrhiwet beat Kenya’s Leonard Barsoton to silver and fellow countryman Mukthar Idris to bronze in the junior field. Conseslus Kipruto (fifth), Michael Bett (10th) Ronald Kwemoi (ninth) and Michael Bett (10th) came home in that order to win team silver.
The rest could have secured medals from track for Kenya at the Worlds but the performance by Julius Yego, who missed the medal bracket by a whisker, remains the most thrilling. He remained in bronze medal position with his National record breaking throw of 85.40m, but its home athlete Dmitriy Tarabin who ploughed the last throw (86.23) of the final to deny him the medal.
Edna Kiplagat (2:25:44) gave Kenya her first gold medal when she became the first woman to retain the marathon title and the second to win a double after Catherine Ndereba in 2003 and 2007.
After playing second fiddle to settle for bronze in 2009 Berlin and 2011 Daegu, Milcah Chemos would finally crack the code, clocking a world lead of 9:11.65 for her major victory in women’s 3000m steeplechase.
KEMBOI REIGNS SUPREME
It was the only event in middle and long distance races at the Worlds and Olympics where Kenya had not won gold Lydiah Chepkurui would complete Kenya’s 1-2 finish with Personal Best 9:12.55.
Ezekiel Kemboi would strike for Kenya’s third gold medal in 3,000m steeplechase to become the only athlete in history after his coach Moses Kiptanui to claim a hat-trick of World titles.
Kemboi, who won gold at 2012 London and 2004 Athens Summer Games, went for his third world gold medal in 8: 06.02, bringing his Worlds collection to six, including victories at 2009 Berlin and 2011 Daegu. It was Kenyan 1-2 podium finish with World Junior silver medallist Consenslus Kipruto settling for silver in 8:06.37.
The 2008 Beijing Olympic champion Asbel Kiprop retained his World 1500m title in 3:36.28, but Kenya’s dream of a podium sweep went up in smoke after Nixon Chepseba and the 2011 Daegu World Championships silver medallist Silas Kiplagat finished the race in fourth and sixth places in 3:36.87 and 3:37.11 respectively.
Eunice Sum lived to the biblical David verses Goliath battle, saving the best for last. She floored giants including Olympic and World champion Russian Mariya Savinova to win Kenya its second women’s 1500m title since her mentor Janeth Jepkosgei in 2007 Osaka.
Sum clocked PB 1:57.38 seconds, pipping Savinova to silver in 1:57.80 as the front-running Brenda Martinez from the USA settled for silver 1:57.91.
Mercy Cherono and Gladys Cherono could have lost their 5000m and 10,000m battles to Ethiopians Meseret Defar and Tirunesh Dibaba, but it marked their ascendance to the top. Paul Tanui (10,000m), Isaiah Koech (5000m) and Helen Obiri (1500m) won bronze medals.
The men won three events in the World Marathon majors-Geoffrey Mutai, Dennis Kimetto and Wilson Kipsang winning in New York, Chicago and Berlin respectively, However, it’s Kipsang’s time of 2:03:23 that erased Patrick Makau’s previous world record time of 2:03:38 from the same course in 2011.
The Kenyan women swept all the events in World Major Marathon events with Priscah Jeptoo, who claimed the women’s jackpot prize of Sh42.5m winning in New York (2:25:07) and London (2:20:15).