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Kiplagat spares Kenya the blushes

Saturday March 28 2009

Kiplagat crosses the finish line to win the race. It was the first time since 1994 for Kenya to win the senior women’s world title. Prisons officer Hellen Chepng’eno won the 1994 race in Budapest. Photo/MOHAMMED AMIN

Kiplagat crosses the finish line to win the race. It was the first time since 1994 for Kenya to win the senior women’s world title. Prisons officer Hellen Chepng’eno won the 1994 race in Budapest. Photo/MOHAMMED AMIN 

By CHRIS MUSUMBA in Amman, Jordan

For 14 years, no Kenyan had attain the feat Helen Chepngeno attained in Budapest in 1994 by winning the senior women’s race at the World Cross Country Championships.

But that jinx was broken finally on Saturday when national champion Florence Kiplagat cruised to victory in 26 minutes and 13 seconds at the 37th IAAF World Cross Country Championships.

But it was no simple task. Her colleague Linet Masai was certain the gold was hers but Kiplagat’s final sprint won her the race, beating Masai at the tape with Ethiopia’s Meselech Melkamu coming in third.

Kenya started the race disheartened after the junior individual titles went to their opponents Ethiopia, but that was immediately erased as the senior women’s race developed.

After the first two kilometres, it was all Kenya and Ethiopia.

Pauline Korikwiang, making her return to Asia after winning the junior race in Fukuoka, Japan, in 2006, was the first at the end of the second lap with 12:36 ahead of Lineth Chepkurui.

But the steep gradient of the Bisharat Golf Course was taking its toll on the Kenyans as they slowed down to allow Ethiopia’s Melkamu and Gelete Burka to close in.

In the third lap, Masai changed gears as she went full throttle and this caught the Ethiopians by surprise as they struggled to maintain their advantage and keep Kenya under watch.

Both Burka and Melkamu held on but let Masai opened a five-metre gap.

The Kenyan did not relent as she held out and it was apparent at the time, the race was Kenya’s for losing as Chepkurui and Korikwiang and Kiplagat moved in.

At the bell, Masai had opened a 10-metre gap and she looked comfortable as she ran effortlessly down the steep.

The Ethiopians did not make an effort to close her down and she went on.

Starting the climb with an advantage of 10 metres, Masai did not realise Kiplagat was closing in and she did not increase her pace.

She struggled with the climb and was stunned when Kiplagat beat her at the tape. Assistant Kenya team captain, Lineth Chepkurui, said she is happy with the team’s performance and it was a relief for her that they won both the team title and individual in senior women’s race.

She clocked 26:23 ahead of Wude Ayalew (Ethiopia) 26:23 with Hilda Kibet (Netherlands) 26:43 coming in sixth after Ann Karindi 26:49.

“I thought I was first, but as long as it’s a Kenyan who has won, I have no problem with that,” said Masai.

But Kiplagat, who had earlier confirmed her intention for the title, said she was in Amman for nothing less than gold and had spent the entire night praying that God rewards her so that she can win the money to take care of the family of his brother who died before the Kenyan trials last month.

“I saw Masai struggling in the last metres and I saw the Ethiopians closing in from behind me. So I decided to sprint and aid her and that is why I had no breath on crossing the line. I fainted but when I recovered I realised I had won gold,” she said.

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