2014 Eldoret Polytechnic Cross Country, by Justin Lagat
The first weekend of 2014 saw the last leg of the KCB's Athletics Kenya (AK) cross country series being held in Eldoret Polytechnic. The athletes who turned up for the event may have been relatively fewer compared to those who would typically turn up in any running event around Eldoret, but they were the best given that most of them were here to compete for the jackpot prizes that were to be won by athletes whose performances had been impressive from the past events that happened last year. Majority of the athletes could not run because they are still in their festive moods and are not yet ready to run in competitions.
There were four categories of races to be staged: The 12km senior men, 8km senior women, 8km junior men and 6km junior women.
Berlin Marathon winner, Florence Kiplagat emerged the winner in the women's senior race by leading in a sizeable gap with about two kilometers to the finish line. Her winning time was 26:23 and was followed by Beatrice Mutai, who is the favorite to win the jackpot prize, in 26:34. Florence continued her dominance which she had been exhibiting in a number of local cross country events since late last year. She had told the local media here in Kenya while traveling back into the country from Berlin Marathon with Wilson Kipsang, the world record holder, that she was motivated by Wilson's record and was going to step up her training too and target the women's marathon record as well. So far, her hard work has been manifested in the recent cross country events she has been participating in. She will be running the Barcelona Marathon next month and it will be interesting to see how she will run there.
Surprises often happen in local races here in Kenya, and Ronoh Kurgat was the surprise that emerged in the senior men's race. He took the lead with about 5km of the race remaining and maintained it until he crossed the finish line in 35:13 followed by Julius Kogo in 35:25. Frederick Musyoki, who is the favorite to win the jackpot prize, was in fifth position in 35:52. Many stars had lined up at the starting point of this event and Kurgat himself was even surprised by his win.
January and February are always the hottest months of the year around Eldoret. With the harsh weather coupled with the tough hilly sections on the course, many athletes found the going tough and had to drop out of the race. They included two times 1500m world and one time Olympic Champion, Asbel Kiprop and the world's fastest marathoner, Geoffrey Mutai. Mutai had failed to finish this race again last year. Some say he is just doing that to pave way for new talents to shine too. I wonder if it is the truth.
Unlike in the senior races where the jackpot winners are yet to be announced, the junior races' winners were named after the meeting. Agnes Chebet was the pre-race favorite of many spectators and she never disappointed as she won the girls' race in 20:04 followed by Sheillah Chepng'etich in 20:08. Agnes was later declared the winner of the jackpot prize.
Frankline Ng'elei won the junior men's race in 23.16 after he ran strongly in the last 2km to open up a considerable gap from his competitors before crossing the finish line. Moses Mukono had led the field in the early stages of the race, but began to falter in the final kilometers. He however fought hard to finally clinch the second place in 23:21. From the points he had accumulated from previous races, Moses Mukono was eventually declared the winner of the jackpot prize in this category.
Now that the AK cross country series are over, regional and national championships will follow in the next weeks as the selection for a team to represent Kenya at the African cross country championships in Kampala, Uganda gets underway.