Tuesday, 26 March 2013

World XC Champs senior women's winners feature - Comeback queen Chebet now focused on Moscow 10,000m


After making an impressive return to the top of the medals podium at the IAAF World cross country Championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland today (24), Kenyan Emily Chebet has set her sights on transferring her sparkling form to the track at this August’s World Championships in Moscow.

The 27-year-old turned back the clock to replicate her 2010 victory on the Myslecinek Park course in sprinting away to a surprise gold medal ahead of Ethiopia’s Hiwot Ayalew and Belaynesh Oljira.  

It was the biggest win of her career since she first took the global crown three years ago, having suffered from a long-time knee injury and a dip in form on both the cross country surface and on the track. 

Bydgoszcz 2013 was her fourth appearance in the Championship, having finished fifth in the junior race in the 2003 edition and failing to finish on home turf in Mombasa in 2007.

Having been almost inseparable from Ayalew, the Olympic 3,000m steeplechase fifth placer for most of the race, Chebet found herself trailing her East-African rival by around three seconds with just 800m remaining but managed to chase her down and overtake in an exhilarating finish.

Indeed, Chebet herself – who is married to 2008 Kenyan 10,000m champion Edward Muge - was pleasantly surprised by the outcome on a snow-drenched course in below zero temperatures:

“I wasn’t expecting to perform well here as the course was badly affected by the weather so I thank God for letting me win the title again,” she revealed.

“I’ll come back to Poland as I like it here very much. I did the same tactics as in 2010 and when I saw Ayalew was exhausted, I knew I’d overtake her at some point.”

A reserved Kenyan Administration police officer, Chebet certainly had a point to prove as she had failed to qualify for her national squad for the 2011 Championships in Punta Umbria and only placed fourth in her national trial for the event, having been spiked mid-way through the race.

Hailing from the Rift Valley province and based in Kericho, Chebet explained before the event that she believed Bydgoszcz was her destiny:

“In 2010, I finished fourth at the trials and went on to win gold. When I heard they returned the event there, I got the motivation to train hard, get back into shape and make the team since I missed defending my title in Spain.”

Her achievement therefore represents the ultimate redemption for Chebet as she majestically reclaimed the title she so unfortunately lost two years ago.

The modest and shy runner in turn led the Kenyan outfit to an emphatic gold medal-winning display, with 19 points to Ethiopia’s 48 - their fourth consecutive title in the event, again proving their dominance with all six runners inside the top 11.

Now with her confidence restored, Chebet will turn her attentions to the road in the short term and on the track for the summer:

“My main focus now (in the spring) is road races over 5km and 10km as I need to improve my form before the World Championships in Moscow,” she revealed.

“Then I want to try my luck at 10,000m so I’m going to try to make sure I get the opportunity to run for my country.”

Ninth in the 2007 World Championships over 10,000m in Osaka and with a 31:30.22 personal best dating back to the 2011 season, Chebet will no doubt tackle the new challenge with determination on the back of a glorious comeback campaign this winter.

Nicola Bamford for the IAAF

World XC Champs - junior women's winners feature - Change of pace the next goal for Kipyegon


She may have successfully defended her IAAF World cross country Championship junior title in Bydgoszcz, Poland today (24) but Kenyan Faith Chepngetich Kipyegon now intends to step down in distance in order to challenge the seniors on the track.

The 19-year-old became only the third woman in the history of the event to defend her title after her compatriot Viola Kibiwot won in 2001 and 2002 and Ethiopia’s World indoor 1500m champion, Genzebe Dibaba enjoyed back-to-back victories in 2008 and 2009 before embarking on a fine senior

A comfortable winner in the fiercely-competitive Kenyan trial, Kipyegon edged marginally clear of her teammate, 17-year-old Agnes Chebet Tirop in the closing metres to clinch the gold, as Ethiopia’s 17-year-old Alemitu Heroye took the bronze.

After warming up from contesting the 6km course in below zero temperatures and snow-covered conditions, Kipyegon explained:

“I’m so happy to defend my title in Bydgoszcz, it delights me so much.

“My training went well in the run-up to this event, I was training on Mount Kenya and it’s a place that’s relatively cold as I knew it would be here.

“I expected to win but I knew it would be tough here, I just hoped to defend my title. The course was tough, there was a lot of ice and it was very cold for me but my hope was still to win.”

Her impressive performance led Kenya to gold in the team stakes as they claimed 14 points to comfortably beat Ethiopia’s 23.

Lead by Kipyegon and Tirop, the winning squad could boast five members in the top ten, with their sixth athlete in 11th position.

Now looking ahead to warmer climes and a new challenge in the senior ranks, Kipyegon revealed her plans to concentrate on the shorter 1500m distance during the forthcoming track season as she hopes to translate her fine junior form against her older peers at the World Championships in Moscow in

“After today’s race I expect to race the 1500m in Moscow, I’m comfortable at that distance and I like it.”

She may have exited in the first round of the metric mile at the London Olympic Games last summer but it would take a brave sole indeed to bet against this promising youngster progressing further after her breakthrough run in Poland.

Nicola Bamford for the IAAF

World XC Champs senior women's report - Chebet turns back the clock to win again


2010 IAAF World cross country champion Emily Chebet enjoyed an impressive return to the top of the medals podium in winning her second global title on Sunday (24) in Bydgoszcz, Poland.

The 27-year-old Kenyan recreated her golden memories of the Myslecinek Park course in storming to victory ahead of Ethiopia’s Hiwot Ayalew and Belaynesh Oljira.  

A total of 97 athletes from 29 countries contested the 8km course, with Chebet chasing down Olympic 3,000m steeplechase fifth placer Ayalew in the closing 200m of the race in an exhilarating finish to capture the gold in 24:24 ahead of Ayalew’s 24:27. 

The pair were almost inseparable for the entire race as they joined Ireland’s European cross country champion Fionnuala Britton at the head of the pack from the gun, and asserted their intentions at the front by the end of the first of four laps.

With the Kenyan contingent packing well with five runners in the top seven at the midway point, Chebet was joined by Kenyan trials winner Margaret Muriuki as she began to push on with Ayalew, who was seeking to clinch her nation’s first victory since 2008.

Indeed, the Ethiopian trials winner was determined to put an end to the Kenyan hegemony in this event and so made a brave and strong bid for home in the final 800m, establishing a presumably unassailable 50m lead going into the final steep uphill stretch.

Chebet however, had a point to prove as she had failed to qualify for her national squad for the 2011 Championships and finished only fourth in the Kenyan trial for this event. Indeed, she surprised many by reeling in the tiring Ayalew in the final 100m to sprint to an unexpected victory here once again.

A bronze medallist at the 2012 African cross country Championships, she showed glimmers of a return to form back in September, recording a 10km road personal best of 30:58 in Tilburg but her current cross country shape was uncertain.

The 23-year-old Ayalew additionally experienced a big improvement, progressing from 11th in the 2011 event in Punta Umbria to take the silver medal.

Further back, Olympic 10,000m fifth placer Belaynesh Oljira captured the bronze (24:33) ahead of Bahrain’s Shitaye Eshete (24:34), who placed 12th in the 2011 event and also finished just behind Oljira in the London Olympics.

The USA’s Neely Spence finished 13th (25:08) to place as top non-African, just ahead of Britton, the European indoor 3,000m bronze medallist in 14th (25:08).

In the team standings, Chebet led the Kenyan outfit to emphatic gold medal-winning display, with 19 points to Ethiopia’s 48.

It represented their fourth consecutive title in the event and again proved their dominance with all six runners inside the top 11.

Ethiopia meanwhile, collected the silver courtesy of the medal-winning performances from Ayalew and Oljira in addition to 2011 junior runner-up Genet Yalew placing 15th and having two others inside the top 30.  Four-time bronze medallist Meselech Melkamu failed to finish.

In bronze, Bahrain took their first ever medal in the team event with 73 points off the back of Eshete’s fourth place finish and with Tejitu Daba in 8th.

Nicola Bamford for the IAAF

World XC Champs senior women's report - Kipyegon majestic in title defence


Reigning champion Faith Chepngetich Kipyegon successfully defended her junior women’s crown at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships this afternoon (March 24) in Bydgoszcz, Poland.

The 19-year-old Kenyan thus became the third woman to retain her title in the history of the event and in turn, replicated the achievements of her fellow countrywoman Viola Kibiwot, the 2001 and 2002 winner.

A now biannual event, the illustrious race took place on the same Myslecinek Park course as the 2010 Championships and enjoyed a total of 88 competing athletes from 22 countries. 

Contesting three laps over a 6km snow-covered course, Kipyegon initially held back from the gun, sitting in around fifth place behind her teammate 17-year-old Agnes Chebet Tirop and Ethiopia’s
Ruti Aga, the World junior 5,000m silver medallist at the fore of the field.

Striding out over an undulating route with a few patches of bare grass in below-freezing temperatures, Kipyegon - the World junior 1500m champion – joined Tirop at the front of the leading pack at around the four minute mark.

Negotiating several rhythm-sapping mounds and a steep incline towards the end of each lap, the pair ran stride for stride and were joined by 17-year-old Ethiopian Alemitu Heroye at eight minutes in.

A further kilometre in, the trio pulled clear from the rest of the pack and a few minutes later, the Kenyan duo created daylight ahead of their East-African rival, with Tirop – the world junior 5,000m bronze medallist trying to inch ahead.

With a half a mile remaining, Ethiopian trials winner Heroye rejoined the pair only for them to pull clear up the long uphill stretch and then on the decline, Kipyegon showed an impressive change of pace to sprint away in the final 300m for victory.

Clocking 17:51, the winner finished marginally ahead of her compatriot, with Tirop being awarded the same time for silver as Heroye crossed the line six seconds adrift (17:57) to take the bronze.

Further back, Kenya’s Caroline Chepkoech Kipkirui finished fourth (18:09) with Aga in fifth (18:18).
World junior 5,000m champion Buze Diriba of Ethiopia placed eighth while the honour of finishing the top non-African and indeed the first European athlete went to Great Britain and Northern Ireland’s World junior 3,000m bronze medallist Emelia Gorecka, who took 16th position in 19:19.

In the team stakes, Kenya comfortably claimed the spoils with 14 points to Ethiopia’s 23. Lead by Kipyegon and Tirop, the winning squad could boast five members in the top ten, with their sixth athlete in 11th position.

Taking the bronze medals, Great Britain and Northern Ireland captured their first ever piece of team silverware in the event with 81 points and four runners inside the top 30, lead by European cross country runner-up Gorecka. 

Nicola Bamford for the IAAF

Thursday, 21 March 2013

World XC Champs - Senior women's preview - Ayalew and Muriuki head open senior battle


With Kenyan duo and 2011 gold and silver medallists Vivian Cheruiyot and Linet Masai preferring to focus their attentions on the track season ahead, and Ethiopia’s four-time champion and 2012 Olympic 10,000m winner, Tirunesh Dibaba withdrawing through injury, the senior women’s race at the 2013 IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland this Sunday (March 24) could be viewed as an open affair.

Despite the lack of big name entrants, the championship will however continue to host a breeding ground for potential future stars of the global distance running community, and Hiwot Ayalew and Margaret Muriuki are top of the list of gold medal contenders.

Aspiring to clinch her nation’s first victory since 2008, Ayalew asserted her authority in winning the highly competitive Ethiopian trial last month and is a much-improved athlete compared to the runner who finished eleventh in the last global contest in Punta Umbria two years ago.

The 23-year-old finished fifth in the Olympic 3,000m steeplechase in London last summer before switching surfaces to take the first leg of the IAAF XC Permit Series back in November in Burgos, Spain, and looks set to threaten the medal podium in Poland.

Eager to continue the Kenyan stranglehold of the winners’ trophy, Muriuki was equally impressive in
 claiming her national trial in Nairobi, which doubled as the penultimate leg of the IAAF XC Permit Series.

Turning 27 yesterday (March 21), she finished sixth in the 2010 Championships and despite her relative low profile on the international stage since, Muriuki too could be set to challenge for a medal.

The 2012 African cross country Championship runner-up registered a 69:21 half-marathon best in Lisbon this time last year and is part of a strong Kenyan contingent here.

Her teammate, Emily Chebet will be aspiring for a return to the medal rostrum as the 2010 champion has been in fine form domestically this winter. Despite only finishing fourth in the Kenyan trial, the 27-year-old will hope to recreate the golden memories from her last visit to the course.

Having failed to qualify for her national squad in 2011, Chebet bounced back to claim the bronze medal at the 2012 African cross country Championships and recorded a 30:58 10km road best in Tilburg in September.

Meanwhile, 20-year-old Genet Yalew will be aiming to translate her eye-catching junior form into the fiercer senior ranks.

The 2011 junior silver medallist was a runner-up in the Ethiopian trial and clocked a 14:48.43 5,000m lifetime best in Rome last spring. She will be hoping to match her fifth place finish from the last time she competed in Poland, albeit in the senior event this time around.

Joining the Ethiopian team and bringing a plethora of experience will be four-time bronze medallist Meselech Melkamu.

The third-place finisher at the 2006, 2007, 2009 and 2010 events, Melkamu will hope to maintain her impressive consistency and reach the podium once again after finishing just outside of the medals in the 2011 edition.

Despite finishing only fourth in the Ethiopian trial, the 27-year-old 2011 World 10,000m fifth-placer certainly has the familiarity to cause a medal upset.

Recording a 2:21.01 marathon debut in Frankfurt last autumn, the 2004 junior champion also clocked a useful 68:05 half-marathon in Ras Al Khamiah last month.

Of those determined to disrupt the familiar East African supremacy, Bahrain’s Shitaye Eshete should feature highly.

The 22-year-old finished fifth in the World Indoor 3,000m final twelve months ago and backed her performance up with sixth place in the Olympic 10,000m in London.

Eshete has also finished eleventh and twelfth in the 2010 and 2011 World cross events and is looking capable of finally advancing into the top-ten in Poland.

Two other athletes with high aspirations will be Eritrea’s Nazaret Weldu, following her victory in the IAAF XC Permit in Soria, Spain back in November and Ireland’s Fionnuala Britton.

Britton, the 28-year-old two-time European cross country champion will be making an impressive eighth appearance in the event and looks set to improve on her sixteenth position from Punta Umbria.

A bronze medallist over 3,000m at the recent European Indoor Championships in Gothenburg, Sweden, Britton finished fifteenth in the Olympic 10,000m last summer but appears to have gained in strength and confidence since, winning the Edinburgh and Antrim stages of the IAAF XC Permit Series at the turn of the year.

Nicola Bamford for the IAAF.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

World XC Champs Junior Women's Preview - Kipyegon’s title defence set to highlight junior clash


Only two women have successfully retained their junior crown in the history of the IAAF World Cross Country Championships and on Sunday March 24 in Bydgoszcz, Poland, Kenya’s Faith Chepngetich Kipyegon will attempt to become the third during the 2013 edition of the illustrious event.

Held at the same venue as the 2010 global championship, this now biennial competition will see the 19-year-old defending champion seek to replicate the achievements of her fellow countrywoman Viola Kibiwot, the 2001 and 2002 winner.

Another athlete Kipyegon will be keen to follow in the footsteps of is Ethiopia’s World indoor 1500m champion, Genzebe Dibaba, who enjoyed back-to-back victories in 2008 and 2009 before embarking on a fine senior career.

Kipyegon, the World junior 1500m champion, comfortably won the Kenyan trial and will be joined in Poland by her younger sister, Caroline Chepkoech Kipkirui.

The 18-year-old finished fifth in the World junior 5,000m final in Barcelona last summer and took the bronze medal over 3,000m at the 2011 World Youth Championships.

Such accomplishments from the Kenyan duo are quickly earning the siblings comparisons with their East African counterparts, the Dibaba sisters from Ethiopia – Tirunesh (a double Olympic 10,000m champion), the aforementioned Genzebe and Ejegayehu (the 2004 Olympic 10,000m silver medallist).   

Newcomer Alemitu Haroye will lead Ethiopia’s hopes following an impressive trials win from the 17-year-old, whilst her teammate Buze Diriba, the World junior 5,000m champion, is another set to challenge for a medal.

The 19-year-old finished tenth in the 2011 event in Punta Umbria and was the runner-up in the trial for this championship.

A third Ethiopian, Ruti Aga placed fourth in the trial but will look to find the sort of form which helped her to capture World junior 5,000m silver behind Diriba last summer.

The 19-year-old beat older rivals to win the Brussels leg of the IAAF XC Permit Series back in December and will be joined by Kenya’s 16-year-old Roseline Chepnetich in the fight for the minor medals.

Elsewhere, Britain’s Emelia Gorecka will be hoping to get in the mix following a World junior 3,000m bronze medal last year.

The 19-year-old European cross country silver medallist – and former champion - recently claimed her seventh-consecutive British title and is eager to improve on her best position of fifteenth from the 2011 event.

Nicola Bamford for the IAAF.

Monday, 4 March 2013

Memorable week in Gothenburg

I've just returned from spending six wonderful days in Gothenburg, Sweden & thoroughly enjoyed working at my first European Indoor Athletics Championships.

I managed a team of six flash-quoters over the three-day event & received great feedback

It was great to interview a large and varied number of athletes from a variety of events & countries, and I loved the Swedish hospitality and friendliness.

Farewell Gothenburg, thanks for some lovely memories! : )