No one knows better how agonising it has been watching the Belgian, Ethiopian and Eritrean rivals devour Kenyans in cross country running over the last 11 years than John Ngugi and Paul Tergat.
For the two cross country greats - each winning five world titles - 11 years have been long and painful.
However, the two legends can now lie back and relax after what they described as a long-over due victory in the senior men’s 12 kilometre race by compatriot Joseph Ebuya at Sunday’s 38th IAAF World Cross Country Championships.
But they regret that they were not part of those historic moments in Bydgoszcz, Poland, when Ebuya finally reclaimed the title Kenya last won in 1999 through the 39-year-old Tergat at the end of a record-setting five straight wins in Belfast, Ireland.
Tergat could not hold back his joy as he watched Sunday’s race from Cape Town as the Kenyan team obliterated its opponents for a clean sweep of both the individual and team titles.
Interestingly, both Tergat and Ngugi expected the clean sweep considering the high morale and intensive but well coordinated pre-competition training at Kigari, Embu.
For Tergat, it was double joy as on Monday, he was conferred with a Honorary Doctorate at the University of the Western Cape.
“It (Kenya’s victory) was spectacular and historic,” said Tergat by telephone. “That is the way to go although it was long over due.”
“I am really happy that, at least, I will be a happy man even if God is to decide to call me now since someone has taken the cross country baton from me,” the ecstatic Tergat said.
Tergat said it has been hard and difficult not only for him but the country as a whole. Tergat reminisces that Ebuya’s win brought back the 1999 memories from Belfast.
Ngugi said he was proud of the team for erasing the pain.
“I told the team during a dinner party that myself, Tergat and (another previous winner) William Sigei were never born champions. It’s hard work and easy fight that produce conquerors,” Ngugi said.
Ngugi, 48, said the fear for Ethiopians, especially six-time champion Kenenisa Bekele, is what caused the 11-year dry spell.
“During my time, rivals feared my presence and that gave me the philological advantage. That is what Bekele instilled in his rivals,” explained Ngugi.
Ngugi said that now that the 12km title is back in the country, it is a high time another Kenyan won the 5,000m Olympic Gold medal on the track.
Ngugi is the last Kenyan to win the race at the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games.
Tergat and Ngugi read malice in the IAAF’s decision to transform the World Cross Country Championships to a biennial event after the 2011 competition.
“It’s unfortunate since countries like Kenya and Ethiopia use the event as a build up to many other world events. I hope it will in future revert to an annual festival,” said Tergat.
Ngugi alleged pure jealousy, saying some countries, especially from Europe, were not happy with the Kenyan and Ethiopian dominance.
“They scrapped the short course (four-kilometre) race and brought it back thinking that one of their own will win but that never happened,” Ngugi said.
Ngugi is the first Kenyan to win senior men’s 12km race in 1986 in Switzerland and was to make a clean sweep for the following three years.
Khalid Skah of Morocco interrupted to win in 1990 and 1991 but Ngugi reclaimed the title for his fifth crown in 1992. Then William Sigei won the 1993 and 1994 championships before Tergat ascended to the throne for an unprecedented five straight wins from 1995-1999.
He became the first man in history to win the race five times in a row.
Since then, no Kenyan had won the race with Mohammed Mourhit of Belgium going for the 2000 and 2001 honours before Bekele made a sweep from 2002 to 2006 to even Tergat’s record.
Eritrea’s Zersenay Tadese was to break the Ethiopian’s dominance in Mombasa in 2007 but Bekele recaptured the title the following year in Edinburgh before another Ethiopian, Gebre-egziabher Gebremariam, won it last year in Amman.