It’s an interesting statistic but, until Saturday, world 10,000 metres champion Linet Masai had never won a local cross country race.
But everyone has her first time and on Saturday, Masai, the world cross country silver medallist last year, sealed her spot in the Kenyan team to next month’s global contest when she won the senior women’s 8km race at the national championships.
By clocking 26:43.0, Masai confirmed she is a mile ahead of her local opposition and will be a major force in Bydgoszcz, Poland, during the 39th IAAF World Cross Country Championships on March 28.
Defending world champion Florence Kiplagat did not compete on Saturday wand will not defend her world title due to injury. After dominating the European circuit, Masai, 19, returned home three weeks ago and retreated to her training base in Iten.
She emerged focused and was able to shake off the opposition by the five kilometre mark on Saturday.
But deep down, when coach David Leting is all alone sitting by the fire with a glass of his favourite Mursik (traditional sour milk), he must wonder if he has enough cover to protect Masai against the anticipated Ethiopian invasion in Bydgoszcz.
Masai’s performance confirms, however, that she is the silk around which Lineth Chepkurui, Margaret Wangare, Emily Muge, Ann Wanjiru and Gladys Chepngeno will be wrapped.
“I am ready for anyone. I have just tested my speed and endurance in such wet conditions here and I have been reassured of my performance as strong. I will assess and examine each rival separately and when we arrive in Poland, we will be one big Kenyan family. We will triumph,” said Masai.
By the 4km mark, Masai was struggling with only one shoe after a fellow competitor accidentally stepped on her ankle and remove her right shoe.
“I never looked behind; the danger was ahead not behind. I realised that I had not been spiked so I moved on. It was a bit slippery, especially on the corners, but I made sure I opened a gap to help me balance properly. In the end it paid off,” said Masai.
By the third lap, Chepkurui was a distant sixth, but she clawed back gaining on her rivals as she accelerated to the finish line.
Afraid of being subjected to a repeat wild card selection that saw her fail to get into the Kenyan team to Berlin World Championship in 10,000m, Chepkurui changed gears and stormed home in second place clocking 27:03.5
“I realised that I was lagging behind and I opted to increase pace. But I will like to stay closer to Masai so that we can run as a team,” she said. Third place went to Margaret Wangare in 27:05.8 while Emily Muge made the top four with a powerful sprint timed at 27:06.6.
Monica Wangare (27:13.2) and Ann Wanjiru (27:14.4) followed in that order.
There was no place for hopeful Pauline Korikwiang.
After leading in the first two laps, Korikwiang, the G4S athlete, lost her steam and relaxed allowing seventh placed Esther Chemutai (27:17.0), Pamela Lisoreng (27:21.0), Veronica Nyaruai (27:26.2) and Ednah Kiplagat (27:27.7) overtake her.
Now, with the hurdle to jump over the national trials done, Masai is focused on winning the medal that eluded her in Amman, Jordan, last year.
“I was set to win in Amman, but as I said, I don’t know where Florence Kiplagat came from. All I remember is somebody passing and fainting in front of me. But this time round, I am set for such surprises and will be ready to take them in my strides,” said Masai.
After Hellen Chepngeno, who won the senior women race in 1994, Kenya had to wait for 15 years before Kiplagat broke the duck last year. Now, Masai is ready to step into the shoe and make it a Kenyan tradition to win the event in Bydgoszcz.