Kenya’s 18-year-old running phenomenon Celliphine Chespol won the African Cross Country Championship senior women’s title in the Algerian city of Chlef despite thinking she had finished with a lap still to go and then falling on the final circuit.
On a day when Kenya maintained its domination of this five-year-old event, with Alfred Barkach taking the senior men’s title and both teams earning gold, Chespol’s win was the most dramatic contribution to the cause.
Kenyan news portal the nation reported that there was confusion when Chespol thought she had finished the race only for officials to ask her to continue.
I almost ruined my race when I thought I was in the last lap.
“The competition was very tough,” she said after her first win as a senior.
“I almost ruined my race when thought I was in the last lap.”
Chespol – who last season won a junior bronze medal at the World Cross Country Championships and set the second fastest ever 3,000 metres steeplechase time despite losing a shoe at the final water jump in Eugene – had broken away in the third lap with Rosemary Njeri in tow.
She recovered from her miscalculation, and fall, to win the women’s 10 kilometre race in 35min 10sec, with her compatriot Margaret Chelimo Kipkemboi, the African 5,000m champion, making it a Kenyan 1-2 in 35:13.
Ethiopia’s Yeshi Kalayu claimed the last podium place in the senior women’s race in 35:26, with Kenya’s trials winner Stacy Ndiwa finishing fourth in 35:27 and Sandra Chebet taking sixth place in 35:47 to ensure Kenya retained the women’s team title.
Barkach won a sprint finish on the final lap with Julius Kogo to see off the challenge of Uganda’s trials winner Thomas Ayeko in the men’s 10km race.
Having finished second at the National Championships in Nairobi last month that doubled up as the trials – winner Geoffrey Kamworor, the world cross country champion in 2015 and 2017, decided to concentrate on retaining his world half marathon title in Valencia next weekend.
Barkach duly clocked 30:47 for his first major victory, narrowly beating Kogo, who was given the same time.
Ayeko settled for the bronze medal, followed by Ethiopian trials winner Enyew Mekonnen, who recorded 31:01.
Kenya’s Emmanuel Bor clocked 31:14 for fifth place, thus securing the team title for his nation.
Last year’s silver medallist Philip Kipyeko from Uganda was a distant sixth in 31:19.
“It was tight race but I had to be tactical to win the race,” said Barkach.
“My success was all about good training to win.”
Ronex Kipruto and Stanley Waithaka took gold and silver in the junior men’s 8km race after they surged ahead of the pack early on.
Kipruto crossed the tape in 25:01 followed by Waithaka in 25:06 as Ethiopian Solomon Berihu came in third 25:08.
Ethiopia’s Girmawit Gebru and Tsige Selama prevented a Kenyan clean sweep as they took gold and silver in 20:40 and 20:54 respectively in the junior women’s 6km race.
Kenya’s Hellen Ekalale was third in 20:55.
In the mixed relays category, Ethiopian athletes were too strong for the Kenyans after winning in 23:52.
Kenya came in second position, clocking 24:15 ahead of Morocco – who timed in at 25:07.