Purity Gitonga caused a major upset on Saturday when she defeated two-time World Mountain Running winner Lucy Murigi in a dazzling performance during the inaugural 12-kilometre Mt Kenya Mountain Running Championship in Meru County.
Gitonga, who has lived in the shadow of Murigi during mountain running competitions abroad, turned the tables on the more experienced runner, to win her the first race on home soil.
Gitonga clocked 53:13:64 minutes to walk away with Sh500,000 cash prize while Murigi (53:34:4) received Sh250,00. Third-placed Esther Wangui Waweru received Sh100,000.
Wangui had recovered from a fall during a chaotic start, running the entire race with a bleeding right elbow, hip and leg.
At least 10 ambassadors and foreign dignitaries took part in the championship being sponsored by various organisations, among them Nation Media Group which fielded a 20-member team led by CEO Stephen Gitagama.
Also present were Meru Governor Kiraitu Murungi, his Kisumu counterpart Anyang’ Nyong’o, MPs Rahim Dawood (Imenti North) and Kirima Nguchine (Imenti Central) and a host of MCAs.
Gitonga and Murigi broke from the rest of the runners after just 200 metres and ran shoulder-to-shoulder.
However, after the 6km mark, Gitonga who had camped at the Kenya School of Leadership and Adventure situated at the foot of Mt Kenya for the past one week, sprung the surprise on the highly decorated runner and never looked back.
An elated Gitonga, who was cheered on by the residents including her twin sister Caroline, immediately announced that she would be eyeing the global title.
“I have beaten a world champion and I believe I deserve the title. I camped here for one week and acclimatised. In future, I want to win the crown. I had promised the residents that I must win today’s race since I was competing at home,” she said.
A crestfallen Murigi attributed her second-place finish to the high altitude which overwhelmed her.
“I am happy for her since she is a worthy opponent. The air was so thin I had breathing problems. I will revenge when we meet in world contest,” said Murigi.
The elite races were ran at 2,800 metres above sea level.
In the men’s race, 27-year-old Emmanuel Bok overcame a strong field to win the first ever mountain championship on Kenyan soil.
The last year’s South Imenti road race winner overcame the muddy, hilly and rugged course to win the race in 46:20 minutes, ahead of Martin Magu (46:35:02) while Dennis Kemboi was third in 46:48:03 minutes.
In the 8km race, Eastern region junior cross country champion Kelvin Kariuki won in 33:32:51 minutes, followed by Micheck Lochomoi of Baringo in 33:46:57 while Fredrick Ngoyoni was third in 37:35:4 minutes.
In the women’s 6km junior race, Susan wahome was first followed by Otiso Salome while Mariqueta Nthiga was third.
The championship, dubbed "Challenging the Heights", seeks to mobilise funds towards the establishment of a cancer centre at the Meru Level Five Hospital and at the same time market the region as a tourism destination and investment hub to boost the county’s economy.