World beaters return to heroes welcome after dominating Cross Country Championships

Tuesday, April 2nd, 2024 02:06 | By
Beatrice Chebet celebrates after winning. PHOTO/ FKF

The victorious national athletics team to the World Cross Country Championships in Belgrade returned to a heroes welcome yesterday after they won the overall title at the global event.

Kenya’s Beatrice Chebet successfully defended her senior women’s title at the World Athletics Cross Country Championships Belgrade 24, becoming the first senior female athlete to win the title back-to-back since Tirunesh Dibaba in 2006.

The 24-year-old conquered an extremely strong field of her Kenyan compatriots when she broke away from Lilian Kasait Rengeruk just 400m from the finish line to win in 31:05. Rengeruk secured silver in 31:08, while Margaret Chelimo Kipkemboi won bronze in 31:09.

The brilliant Chebet led the Kenyan athletes to a sweep of the top five positions – a feat that was last witnessed at the Kampala edition in 2017 when Kenya swept the top six positions in the senior women’s race.

Chebet credits the great performance to the perfect weather, which was similar to Kenya, and great teamwork.

“We won the team title, that showed very strong teamwork,” said Chebet. “After trials we trained together, we eat the same food. We were a team and being together helped us achieve the best result here.

“It is not easy to come to a world championship and defend your title, there is a lot of pressure. My target was to be on the podium. I felt I was stronger with about 500m to go. The course was so good, the weather was good like in Kenya, very sunny, and the obstacles were not as hard.”

As expected, the talented Kenyan team of Agnes Jebet Ngetich, Emmaculate Anyango Achol, Chebet, Rengeruk and Kipkemboi were at the front from take-off in the 10km senior women’s race, taking the rest of the field through the first lap in 6:30.

They picked up the pace in the second lap, covered in 5:56, again running as a team with Uganda’s Joy Cheptoyek and USA’s Weini Kelati Frezghi in the mix. Surprisingly, the Ethiopian athletes tucked in behind the Kenyan and Ugandan runners.

During the second lap, Kazakhstan’s Daisy Jepkemei led for a few seconds, only for the Kenyan quintet to take over again, running side by side.

The calibre and brilliance of the Kenyan senior women was undeniable. Two of the athletes – Ngetich and Anyango – are the fastest in history at 10km, and Chebet was defending her world cross country title. For a moment it looked like a Kenyan national cross country championship – only the positions changed at the end in Belgrade.

With an increased pace during the second lap, the group reduced with only seven athletes remaining for the medals chase – including the five Kenyans.

The fourth lap was 5:57, with Ngetich, Anyango, Rengeruk, Chebet and Kipkemboi to the fore. Uganda’s Sarah Chelangat was brave enough to trail the Kenyans but she could not keep up. Jepkemei was a distance back.

The gap grew on the third lap, the group led by Ngetich who was running side by side with Anyango and Chebet. They lapped an athlete and then another and two more.

The fourth lap was an all-Kenyan affair, and they lapped two more athletes. At this point it was clear it was going to be a Kenyan win but it was hard to pick the winner as the race entered the home stretch.

The leaders powered on and pushed, but none of them were willing to go, running side by side.

Eventually, Anyango was the first to drop back. Rengeruk, Chebet and Kipkemboi went over the last hill, and Ngetich dropped back. It was down to Chebet, Rengeruk and Kipkemboi.

With around 400m to go, Chebet made the decisive move to sprint to the finish line and retain her title. Rengeruk got silver and Kipkemboi an unexpected bronze.

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