The wins by World Half Marathon record holder Kibiwott Kandie and world 5,000m champion Hellen Obiri provided exciting headlines at the 40th Kenya Defence Forces cross country championship at Moi Airbase Eastleigh in Nairobi on Friday.
Kandie of Embakasi Garrison, who won the title last year and basking in a world record of 57.32, produced a sudden burst of speed to upstage Collins Koros of Kahawa Barracks and teammate Eric Kiptanui in a three-way battle at Moi Airbase cross country circuit.
Kandie, who was born and bred in Baringo County, produced a strong kick in the eight-kilometre mark even as the top guns –among them world half marathon runner Kiplimo Kimutai and 2012 Olympic 3000m steeplechase bronze medallist Abel Mutai –kept falling off the pace.
It turned into anybody’s race among the three as they approached final three kilometres only Kandie employed an electric pace to win the 10km race in 29:24.5 with Koros further back eight seconds and Kiptanui six seconds in arrears.
Joseph Karanja (29:47.4) of Isiolo, Kahawa’s Vincent Mutai (29:48.0) and Abel Mutai (29:348.3) of Marsabit sealed the top six spots.
The 25-year-old Kandie made his maiden appearance in the championship in 2019 at Kahawa Garrison, went unbeaten at Thika Barracks last year before sealing a hat-trick yesterday.
He now harbours huge dreams. “I am happy to win my third title. It was a tough race because my teammates were well prepared. My focus now is the Olympic 10,000m, in which I want to win a medal. I will be happier to win gold,” said Kandie.
Koros, who competed in Athletics Kenya cross country series in Machakos and Ol Kalou, said the second place stands out as his best achievement in cross country.
“I had trained hard. I wanted to keep close tabs with Kandie because he is the best. I have never managed a second place before. So you can imagine what I am feeling now. I now head to the nationals with confidence,” he said.
Kiptanui, who boasts of 58.40 best mark in 21km, wants to improve his personal best at the RAK half marathon on February 19.
There were no surprises also in the women’s races with Obiri, the Olympic 5000m silver medalist, chalking up victory in 33:25.1.
Obiri was irresistible, pushing hard from two kilometres to take her third win at the KDF cross country championships.
Joyce Chepkemoi (33:32.6), the defending champion, came second as Sheila Chepkirui returned third in 33:47.0.
“I am excited to win the race. It’s my fifth overall title and third for KDF. I am also happy because we are taking a strong KDF team to the nationals. I will not represent Kenya at the Africa Cross Country Championships (set for Lome, Togo). My target is the Olympic Games where I want to compete in 5,000m and 10,000m,” said Obiri.
Obiri won the first KDF title in 2014, before making it three in a row from 2017 to 2019.