Punta Umbria, Spain
Linet Masai failed to break the duck in her third attempt at gold as a senior athlete at the World Cross Country championship in Punta Umbria, Spain.
But, at 21, she has a whole career in front of her – unlike the winner in senior women’s race on Sunday, Vivian Jepkemoi Cheruiyot.
The two will be separated in the track season, Masai going to defend her 10,000 metres title and Cheruiyot the 5,000m one at the World Championships in Daegu, South Korea, in September.
Prior to Cheruiyot, Masai had suffered defeats to compatriots Florence Kiplagat in Amman, Jordan, in 2009 and Emily Chebet in Bydgoszcz, Poland, last year.
Reigning World 5,000m champion Cheruiyot, 27, won the World Junior Cross Country title in 2000 in Villamoura, Portugal, but had not placed higher than eighth in a World Cross competition.
Masai is the World 10,000m champion and won the World Junior Cross Country in Mombasa in 2007.
“I like running in warm conditions. I had beaten Masai in Seville in January and was certain to do well here,” said Cheruiyot.
Elusive Olympic medal
Cheruiyot’s gold and Masai’s silver were enough to secure Kenya 15 points, beating Ethiopia (29) and United States of America (57) to the team title.
“I have won everything now – save for that elusive Olympic medal. Well, that is a year from now,” said Cheruiyot.
Masai and Cheruiyot pulled away after the first three laps. Cheruiyot, returning to cross country after four years, crossed the line in 24 minutes 58 seconds, ahead of Masai (25.07), USA’s Shalane Flanagan (25.10) and Ethiopia’s Meseltch Melkamu. Priscah Jepleting, Wude Ayalew (Ethiopia), Pauline Korikwiang, Lineth Chepkurui and Ethiopian Genzebe Dibada followed. Sylvia Kibet managed 13th place.
Masai took the defeat in her stride, saying: “This was a team event. I’m not used to pushing hard and slowing, and that was the order here with the Ethiopians trying to upstage me. Had I pulled away, maybe the others would not have made it.
“I’m happy with my silver though.”
Kenya’s senior men’s 12km team, however, clearly failed to read their race notes properly. With Geoffrey Mutaiseemed to stall after the first two laps, forcing Matthew Kisorio and Paul Tanui to up the tempo.
Imane Merga, flanked by his nation’s trials winner Hunegnaw Mesfin, won the race in 33.50 to give Ethiopia its only gold with Tanui (33.52) second while Vincent Chepkok (33.53) won his first senior medal, a bronze. Kisorio settled for fourth place.
Komon replacement finished fifth
Mutai, Athletics Kenya’s replacement for trials winner Leonard Komon who was axed for competing in a race without permission, wound fifth. Uganda’s Stephen Kiporotich, Philemon Limo and Hosea Macharinyang followed, as Kipsiro only managed 11th.
“The men’s team did not run as planned. The competition, too, was stiff and maybe that is why. It is rare to see after five laps ten athletes still stuck together,” David Leting, the team head coach, observed, vowing: “But that was it; we will see how to win back the title in 2013.”
Despite a bad back, Uganda’s Moses Kipsiro was 13th. Eritrea’s 2010 silver medallist Teklemariam Medhin was 14th – even after being in the leading pack over the first third of the race. The first European across the line – to cheers from the 20,000 spectators – was Spaniard Ayad Lamdassem.
Kenya claimed the team title with 14 points. Ethiopia had 38 points and Uganda, back after a three-year hiatus, 49.
The Kenya team is expected back in the country on Wednesday.