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Kenyan girl wins gold running barefoot

Sunday March 20 2011

Faith Kipyegon Chepngetich sprints to the finish line in Punta Umbria, Spain on March 20, 2011. Photo/CHRIS MUSUMBA

Faith Kipyegon Chepngetich (second from left) sprints to the finish line in Punta Umbria, Spain on March 20, 2011. Photo/CHRIS MUSUMBA 

By CHRIS MUSUMBA in Punta Umbria, Spain

It is not everyday that an athlete gets a second opportunity in the junior category. For an event restricted to athletes aged just 17 to 19 years, most bloom a year too soon or too late.

But Faith Kipyegon Chepngetich was able to make it in the Kenya team last year, where she was fourth placed, losing by a second to compatriot Esther Chemutai. However there was no stopping her on the second chance.

“I knew I was good. I wanted to win gold, but was not so certain because Kenya have stronger athletes. But when it was just me in the front with 50 metres to go, I had to give it my best and I thank to God I won gold,” she said.

Just weighing 40 kilogrammes, many would pass her for a class three pupil, but Chepngetich is a candidate at her home in Molo.

She is in Standard Eight at the Keringet Township Primary School. She was born on January 10 in 1994.

Her most stunning aspect was the way she emerged from the shadows of senior athletes on the course to win.

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Last year she lost because the lose soil of Bydgozcsc, Poland, could not give her the required grip.

What I wanted

“Here it was simple because they have put the grass on the whole course. And that is just what I wanted,” she said.

Chepngetich was one of the few athletes who ran bare foot. Brilliance Jepkorir and her school mate Naomi Chepngeno also had the trust of their bare foot to guide them through the 6 kilometre race.

“I have always run without shoes. I got my first pair of running shoes last year. But they did not fit me and would slow me down because they were big. I tried to train in them but there was no difference,” she said.

This year, she decided to run yet again without shoes. “I run freely and fast without shoes. The spikes underneath make me uncomfortable and I lose balance,” she added.

While training, Chepngetich would usually wear the jogging shoes. But her selection of running kit was crucial on Sunday, because when she was called to sprint, the ground and grass gave her the required grip and friction to win.

“The pace was slower than I expected. But I held on and when it was time to sprint, I am good at it and was able to win,” she said.

Chepngetich has however not had a smooth sail in her short career as a junior runner. She almost missed the Kenyan trials to select the team to Spain with injury after her a school teacher beat her until she lost consciousness because together with Naomi Chepng’etich, they had declined to repeat Standard Seven.

“The teacher wanted us to go to Standard Seven. But I would not agree so he decided to beat us and it was bad,” she said. Chepngetich recovered to finish third at the trials, earning an automatic ticket to Spain.

“Now I will be able to concentrate on my education and do well there too. Am happy that after all I went through to make the Kenya team, I have something to look back at, a gold medal,” she said.

That medal will come with Sh300,000 from the sponsors KCB, but she will not bet anything from IAAF, because the international body does not pay any money to junior athletes.

“I have won many things with athletics. I have travelled and was the winner of the jackpot back home,” she added. The jackpot secured her Sh250,000.

This would have been Chepngetich’s third world cross country championship. In 2009, she was fifth and was included in the team to Amman, Jordan, but was later dropped out because she was still too young.

But that helped her focus more on improving her performance and now she has shown she is a true champion and a heir apparent to the throne Mercy Cherono vacated last year.