Kenya claimed all 12 individual medals and added all four team prizes at the inaugural African Cross-country Champs in Cape Town, despite sending what was effectively a second team, since the first-choice runners were reportedly in the USA, training for the World Cross-Country Champs, due to take place two weeks later in Spain. Granted, the Kenyans didn’t have to contend with traditional rivals Ethiopia, who apparently left their visa applications a bit too late, leaving the Moroccan and South African teams to do most of the chasing. Still, the Kenyans were in a determined mood, with a World Champs spot up for grabs for the winner in each race in Cape Town.
The Champs were hosted by Athletics South Africa and Western Province Athletics at the Western Province Cricket Club’s sports grounds in Rondebosch, with a winding 2km loop course that featured some interesting embankments and even a quick dash through a cricket bowling net. A fair number of spectators turned out for the event, with all local eyes fixed on the South African contingent in each of the four races, but except for the senior men’s 12km, there was little to cheer about as the Kenyans dominated.
KENYA, KENYA, KENYA
The Kenyan procession began in the junior women’s 6km race, where they claimed the top six positions. Caroline Chepkoech won the sprint for the line over Mary Munanu, while the best South African was Sylvia Tshetlanyane in 12th. Kenya took gold in the team competition ahead of Morocco, with South Africa claiming the bronze medals.
The junior men’s 8km was virtually a carbon-copy of the junior women’s race, with Kenyans once again filling the top six positions and claiming the team prize, with Morocco second and South Africa third. Also, the top two Kenyans were only one second apart after a sprint finish that saw Japhet Korir narrowly beat Patrick Mwaka for line honours. Best amongst the local runners were Luyanda Qolo (14th).
Next up were the senior women, running 8km, and this time Kenya could ‘only’ claim the top five positions. Once again Morocco took silver in the team category and South Africa bronze. Yet again it was a sprint for the line as Mercy Cherono outkicked Viola Kibiwot by one second, while South Africa’s Annerien van Schalkwyk was first SA runner home in 11th. She said that the heat had taken its toll on her, and that she hoped it would be cooler in Spain. “I just ran full-blast the whole way. If it had been one metre longer I think I would have died,” she joked.
In the men’s senior 12km SA’s Stephen Mokoka and Kgosi Tsosane took the fight to the Kenyans in the first three laps, but then the strength of the East Africans showed as they claimed the top four positions, with John Mwangangi taking line honours. Nevertheless, Kgosi’s fifth position and Stephen’s sixth, with Lungisa Mdedelwa following in eighth, gave the local supporters something to cheer about, and saw South Africa take the silver medals in the team competition ahead of Morocco. “We wanted to try and dominate the race from the start, because we’re running on home soil, but these Kenyans are something else,” said Kgosi.
ON TO BIGGER THINGS
Speaking after the event, ASA Chairperson James Evans said he was pleased with how smoothly the meet had gone, despite visa problems “The Ethiopians didn’t get their visas on time, the Ugandans almost didn’t make it, and Kenya and Sudan also had problems, because most left it to the last minute. Still, the CAA thinks the meet was world class, and reckons we should now bid for the World Cross-country Champs. South Africa successfully hosted the Worlds in 1996, in Stellenbosch, so we have the track record to back our bid, and we need more events like this in South Africa.”