Kenyans take blue riband senior titles, while the GB junior women and USA men win team medals at 40th World Cross in Bydgoszcz
Japhet Korir of Kenya was a surprise winner of the world cross country title as he defeated defending champion Imane Merga of Ethiopia on a snowy, twisty and hilly course in the Polish city of Bydgoszcz on Sunday.
The 19-year-old was sixth in the Kenyan Championships and 21st in a race in Kericho earlier this year and has a 5000m PB of only 13:11, but he broke away from Merga, Teklemariam Medhin of Eritrea and Moses Kipsiro of Uganda in the final kilometre of the 12km race to win by six seconds in 32:45.
Surprisingly, Korir was the only Kenyan in the top 10 and he followed in the footsteps of the similarly unheralded Joseph Ebuya, who won gold for Kenya when the event was last staged in Bydgoszcz in 2010. Certainly, the venue has a habit of producing surprises, despite the course having changed considerably this year with a flat, featureless terrain and mild weather in 2010 replaced by hillier and snowier ground together with sub-zero temperatures.
Among the athletes to revel in the conditions were American Ben True and Australian Collis Birmingham. With many nations such as Germany and Russia missing the event due to the African domination, True and Birmingham showed non-Africans can be competitive by placing sixth and eighth respectively.
Indeed, True led the United States to superb silver medals behind Ethiopia in the team stakes with cross country superpower Kenya a mere third as his American team-mates included Chris Derrick in 10th, Ryan Vail 17th and Robert Mack 19th. With a result that is sure to dominate the Western media reports from the championships, it was the first time United States had won a team medal in the blue riband men’s race since 2001.
The British team, meanwhile, ran solidly but might look back on this as a missed opportunity given the lack of usual quality at the sharp end, most notably demonstrated by the weakest Kenyan team in recent history. Jonny Taylor ran aggressively during the early stages and was in the mid-20s, but he faded to 31st, as Steve Vernon was second Brit home in 39th, then UK trials winner Frank Tickner in 45th, Mike Skinner 51st and Phil Nicholls in 68th as the GB squad finished 11th.
Emily Chebet retained the title she won in this same Polish city in 2010. On that occasion three years ago, her victory was a big surprise as she beat a field that included Tirunesh Dibaba of Ethiopia. And the Kenyan, who holds modest track PBs such as 31:33 for 10,000m, produced an inspired finish again on Sunday to speed past Hiwot Ayalew of Ethiopia in the closing stages to win by three seconds.
Neely Spence, the daughter of 1991 world marathon bronze medallist Steve Spence, was first non-African in 13th, one place ahead of European champion Fionnuala Britton of Ireland. Neely was supported by Deena Kastor, the former London Marathon winner, who finished 34th despite now being 40 and having raced the Los Angeles Marathon the previous weekend – and it meant United States finished fourth in the team stakes behind one-two-three Kenya, Ethiopia and Bahrain, with Ireland fifth and GB seventh.
Leading the GB team in 31st was Gemma Steel and the Charnwood runner was followed by GB team-mates Louise Damen (37th), Steph Twell (40th), Elle Baker (46th), Lauren Howarth (48th) and Emily Wicks (65th).
Faith Chepngetich Kipyegon defended her junior women’s title when she narrowly beat fellow Kenyan Agnes Tirop. The 2011 winner in Punta Umbria and world junior 1500m champion clocked 17:51 – the same time as Tirop – as Kenya won the team gold from Ethiopia with Great Britain packing brilliantly to win bronze.
Finishing just ahead of Japan, it was Britain’s first medal of any kind at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships since 2004, as well as the first medal in the history of the junior women’s race for Britain.
Leading the team, Emelia Gorecka was first European home in 16th, with GB team-mates Georgia Taylor-Brown (17th), Amy Eloise Neale (21st), Bobby Clay (27th), Rebecca Weston 33rd and Alex Clay 35th.
After finishing 15th in 2011, there had been hopes Gorecka would finish in the top 10, or even the first six. But she refused to be downbeat afterwards, saying she felt great in warm-up, not so brilliant during the race, and would live to fight another day.
Illustrating the gulf between Britain and the world’s best, Britain’s leading contender before the championships, Gorecka, was around a minute-and-a-half behind the winner. However when Gorecka’s training partner Charlotte Purdue was 15th in 2007 she was two minutes behind the leader, so maybe the gap is closing. Plus, team bronze was a great achievement.
Before the championships, letsrun.com had cheekily suggested that Mo Farah might struggle to win the junior men’s race, let alone senior event in Bydgoszcz. Maybe they had a point as Hagos Gebrhiwet of Ethiopia beat Leonard Barsoton of Kenya in 21:04.
Gebrhiwet’s world junior 5000m record of 12:47.53 is faster than Farah’s PB, although the 18-year-old was only 11th in the Olympic final last year. Still, he is a junior for the remainder of 2013 and likely to be one of Farah’s main rivals at the IAAF World Championships in Moscow in August.
Matt McClintock was first non-African in 20th – albeit almost two minutes behind Gebrhiwet – as he led the United States to fourth place in the team stakes. Leading Brits were Jonny Davies in 35th and Michael Callegari in 37th as GB were ninth team home behind winners Ethiopia and leading Euro nation Italy in sixth as Kenya lost the junior men’s team title for the first time since 1998.
Now a biennial event, the championships returns to China in 2015.
» See the March 28 issue of Athletics Weekly for in-depth coverage from Bydgoszcz