Like the steeplechase, cross country is considered a national point of pride. Kenyan athletes have built thei careers on the success of the cross country. Justin Lagat wrote this piece on the upcoming championships in Eldoret and how interested local fans are in seeing the stars of the sport. Justin’s description of an incident with his child and wife is quite scary, and reminds one of the strength of a crowd, no matter what the enthusiasm.
Finishing in the top three positions at the national trials in Kenya is a strong indication that one will medal at the world cross country championships. Since 2010, Kenya’s senior men have lost the individual title only once to Imane Merga of Ethiopia. The Kenyan women have never lost the individual title since 2009; in fact, they took all the top 1-2-3-4-5-6 positions during the last edition of the world championships in Kampala in 2017!
Two times (2015 and 2017) world cross country champion, Geoffrey Kamworor will be the biggest star at the national cross country trials in Eldoret’s sports club this Saturday, the 23rd of February. The way in which he won the recent Kenya Police Service championships by a huge margin shows that he is currently in great form.
However, the high altitude course in Eldoret and the presence of new emerging stars will make it a hard battle for Kamworor to win the national title here. Edward Zakayo, Rhonex Kipruto and Rodgers Kwemoi are some of the stars that are seen as a huge threat to Kamworor’s supremacy at the national championships/trials.
It is worth remembering that the last time that the national trials were done in Eldoret in 2016, there were some major upsets including in the men’s 10,000m event in which the two pre-race favorites; Kamworor and Bedan Karoki had both dropped out of the race. The two were however added to the team to Rio Olympic Games. Both the race and the weather will definitely be hot given that it will be run in the afternoon and there could be some major upsets as well here.
In the absence of the 2017 world champion, Irene Chemtai, on the women’s side; the 2015 world champion, Agnes Tirop will be the one to watch out for in the women’s senior race.
Others to watch in the women’s race will include Hellen Obiri (KDF), Margaret Chelimo and Stacy Ndiwa (Kenya Police), Celliphine Chespol and Alice Aprot (Kenya Prisons) among others.
It also promises to be a great event with an electrifying atmosphere given the kind of attachment that the local populations have towards running. In 2016, the gates to Eldoret’s Kipchoge Stadium had to be closed early in the morning after a multitude had turned out to watch the national trials. I remember that my daughter who was three years at the moment and was with her mother had been passed from shoulder to shoulder over the crowds to a nearby ambulance. My wife had been given some space to go and get reunited with her, but she later told me she is not going to take a young child to such a big event again.
One thing is sure. It will be one great event to attend as it will take time again before another national cross country championship happens in Eldoret. Athletics Kenya has plans of moving the trials to different parts of the country each time and it will happen in Kisii County in 2021.