With Kenya’s team to the 37th World Cross Country Championships in Jordan piling up at their traditional Kigari camp, one of the team’s members, Linet Chepkurui, has been granted leave to travel for a world class road race this weekend.
Chepkurui will line up at the World’s Best 10km race in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where Kenya-born Dutchwoman Lornah Kiplagat will be defending the title she won last year in 31 minutes, 0.2 seconds.
With a world record bonus of $100,000 (Sh7.9 million) and a winner’s cheque of $20,000 (Sh1.6 million), the Puerto Rico race is among the richest road races in the world.
Chepkurui, who runs for the Armed Forces, is in Kenya’s senior women’s eight-kilometre team to the global cross country championships that will be held in Amman on March 28.
She is due to leave tonight for the USA from where she will connect to San Juan for the weekend’s competition that has a big Kenyan field in the men’s and women’s races.
The 24-strong Kenyan team will prepare at the Kigari Teachers’Training College for the Amman championships under head coach Julius Kirwa who said yesterday that he had granted Chepkurui the permission to travel to San Juan.
However, she has been instructed to return to camp as soon as possible.
A total of six athletes - Paul Tanui, Innes Chenonges, Mercy Cherono, Hilda Chepkemoi, Jackline Chebii and Nelly Chebet - were in camp yesterday with Kirwa saying the deadline for athletes to report expires on Thursday.
“Some have to secure releases from school, others talked to me and some are on the way. But the work begins on Thursday where I will test their fitness and see if any has new injuries. We are not wasting any time,” said Kirwa.
Chepkurui, 12th finisher (26:05) at last year’s World Cross Country Championships in Edinburgh, has set her targets high for the this season.
Returning from long lay-off with a hamstring injury, the 21-year-old will be making her first trip abroad after her performance in Scotland.
“I have never been out since then. The course in Edinburgh was tough, muddy and I struggled to finish with the injury. Luckily, it has healed and now I want to test myself with the world greatest,” she said on Tuesday.
It was on the basis of her long lay-off that Kirwa agreed to release Chepkurui to run in San Juan, also considering that Athletics Kenya sanctioned her trip.
“She came to me pleading after the trials that she had been invited by the organisers of the race to run in Puerto Rico. Because she has been out injured, I saw no reason to stand in her way, she needs races to build her confidence and test the leg,” said Kirwa.
Hellen Chepng’eno is the only Kenyan to have won the senior women’s race at the World Cross Country Championships, a feat she achieved in 1994 in Budapest.
The defending champion in the race, Ethiopia’s Tirunesh Dibaba, is unlikely to defend her title with injury.
She was not included in Ethiopia’s team to the Amman championships that was named last weekend.
Kenya’s senior women’s team to Amman has Chepkurui, Pauline Korikwiang, Innes Chenonges, Linet Masai, Florence Kiplagat and Ann Karindi.
Chepkurui, was at AK secretariat on Tuesday to seek permission from David Okeyo, the AK secretary general.
“I am here to talk to Okeyo. I have been invited to run abroad and I believe, he will listen to my case,” she said.
Okeyo was not immediately available to comment on the issue.
Chepkurui, has always envied Kenya’s lone senior women cross country gold medallist Hellen Chepngeno. But since Chepngeno’s triumphant victory in 1994 in Budapest, Hungary, Kenya has struggled to remain vibrant in the race which has been dominated by Ethiopians.
But, the current crop of junior runners who have graduated to the senior cadre look promising and convinced, the long wait might be ended in Amman, Jordan. With current champion Tirunesh Dibaba of Ethiopia allegedly injured, Kenya stand best chance to reclaim the title, 15 years down the line.
Last year’s bronze medallist Linet Chepkurui, 2006 Fukuoka junior 6km champion Pauline Korikwiang, Chepkurui, Innes Chenonges, Florence Kiplagat and Ann Karindi will be carrying Kenya’s flag in the event.
Senior women 8km team had no one in camp on Tuesday. But Kirwa said there was no reason for concern. “I have just talked to Masai, Karimbi who are on the way. They will be here in the evening,” he said.
Others who were expected on Tuesday are Linus Chumba, Mark Kiptoo, Leonard Komon, Titus Mbishei, Japheth Korir. World Junior 5,000m bronze medallist Mathews Kisorio is expected on Thursday.