By Robert Johnson
March 26, 2017
KAMPALA, Uganda — In the end, after a rousing display of un-rabbitted distance running at its finest, Kenya’s Geoffrey Kamworor repeated as individual world cross country champion in 28:24 and host Uganda found out that fairy tales are fictional as the 42nd IAAF World Cross Country Championships came to a dramatic end.
Heading into the final of the five two-km loops in today’s senior men’s race, Kamworor trailed Uganda’s Joshua Cheptegei, their 20-year-old budding star who was 6th in the Rio Olympic 10,000 last summer at age 19, by 12 seconds and the home crowd, already energized by Jacob Kiplimo’s historic win in the boys’ junior race (Uganda’s first-ever gold at these championships), was going absolutely bonkers.
(Editor’s note: Here is a video of what it sounded and looked like while Cheptegei was leading and one when Kiplimo was leading)
Cheptegei had taken the lead past the half-way point, at around the 15-minute mark, and appeared to be well on his way to victory. However, the fairy tale ending was not to be as early on the final lap Kamworor started to gradually eat into Cheptegei’s lead and then midway through the final lap Kamworor started to gain rapidly on Cheptegei. It soon became clear that Cheptegei would be caught, the only question was would he be able to respond? No, he would not.
With less than a half mile to go, Kamworor blew by Cheptegei, who offered no response, and it soon became apparent why – Cheptegei was totally out of gas. Soon, he slowed to a shuffle and was staggering badly in the high 70-degree heat (it was sunny and humid so it felt way hotter than high 70s). Somehow he was able to make it to the finish line without falling to the ground or getting assistance from an official, which would have resulted in a DQ. That fact proved to be very important as Cheptegei ended up being Uganda’s fourth and final scorer in 30th – some 1:40 behind Kamworor (who only took the lead with 2:10 left in the race) – and Uganda ended up taking the team bronze ahead of Eritrea by just 3 points (72 to 75).
One of the bravest runs in world cross country history didn’t result in just a moral victory. Cheptegei would go home with a much-deserved medal.
Behind Kamworor, Leonard Barsoton, the 2017 Kenyan Trials champ, got individual silver (28:36) as Ethiopia’s 19-year-old Abadi Hadis, who ran 13:02 and 26:57 last summer, got the bronze (28:43). In the team standings, while Kenya went 1-2 for the second straight world cross country championships, they lost the team title to Ethiopia for the third straight time as Ethiopia edged them by 1 point (21 to 22) thanks to a way better score at #4. Ethiopia’s 4 scorers finished 3-4-6-8 as Kenya went 1-2-7-12.
Team USA, which came into this meet with medal hopes, ended up coming just short as while they ended up fifth in the team standings, they were only 6 points (78) behind Uganda as America’s four Kenyan-born runners led the way in the scoring positions. Team USA’s #1 man was Sam Chelanga, who ran a very smart race, moving up throughout before ultimately finishing in 11th. Chelanga was only 26th after the first lap but his position improved with every passing lap (he was 22nd after two laps, 18th after the three and 14th after four). Leonard Korir’s undefeated winter campaign came to an end today as he was the US’s #2 in 20th just ahead of Shadrack Kipchirchir (21st). Stanley Kebenei, who led briefly in the first lap, was the US’s final scorer in 26th in 30:04, while Scott Fauble was 36th in 30:20. The final American entrant, Trevor Dunbar, was a DNS as he came down with sickness before the race.
Quick Take: What A Race!!! What An Effort By Cheptegei and What A Win By Kamworor!!
This is certainly a race that anyone who witnessed it in person will remember for a long, long time. Energized by the home crowd, Cheptegei, the 2014 world junior champ at 10,000, put in a heroic effort that came within about 770 meters of giving him gold.
In the end, Kamworor cemented himself as distance running’s biggest young talent as this was the 24-year-old’s fourth world title (2 at half-marathon and 2 in xc). His defense of his 2015 crown was the first since the great Kenenisa Bekele won his 5th in a row in 2006.
Afterwards Kamworor said the reason he didn’t go with Cheptegei was he felt the pace was “suicidal.” That proved to be the case.
Kamworor said he just stayed focused on trying to catch Cheptegei as he wanted to repeat as champion.
“From the start of this race, I was really focused to retain the title…I was the world cross country champion. So I didn’t want to be called a former world cross country champion. I wanted to remain the guy,” Kamworor said.
Quick Take: We’ve Never Seen Anything Like Cheptegei’s Collapse
Runners have collapsed at the end of memorable races before, but never before has it been the guy who was about to be world champion before a throng of rabid fans.
While Cheptegei’s collapse was something we had never seen before, so was the Ugandan crowd’s reaction. They were eerily silent as Cheptegei staggered to the finish.
But the silence should not be mistaken for indifference. Cheptegei got the recognition of Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni, who sought Cheptegei out afterwards and spoke some words to him. After Museveni departed, the rest of the Ugandan team gathered around asking Cheptegei what the president told him.
At the start of the final lap we said out loud to one another, “Can the crowd really just will someone to be world champion?” Apparently not, but that doesn’t take anything away from Cheptegei’s performance. He extended his body to its absolute limit and secured the team bronze for Uganda. When Geoffrey Kamworor says the pace is “suicidal,” you are going where human beings have not gone before.
Video of Cheptegei staggering to the finish below.
Before the race Cheptegei said it was a “do or die case”. He really meant it.
Poor Joshua Cheptegei took 'do or die' almost too literally today. I hope he's ok after his brave effort to finish. pic.twitter.com/0qp9PdU9ds
— Emily Evans (@RunEmilyERun) March 26, 2017
Quick Take: Major Props To Team USA For Coming To Uganda, Dreaming Big and Going For It
In the end, the fact that the US put no one in the top 10 and ended up in 5th place as a team was a little disappointing. But US fans certainly can’t be disappointed in Team USA’s effort (just like Ugandan fans can’t be disappointed in Cheptegei). The US runners deserve props for coming to Uganda and dreaming big and going for gold. For years, people have complained when Americans go out conservatively in major marathons. Well there was nothing conservative about the US’s approach today. At the end of the first lap, they had two in the top six (Kebenei was 3rd, and Korir was 6th).
— LetsRun.com (@letsrundotcom) March 26, 2017
Sam Chelanga Post-Race
Leonard Korir Post-Race
Scott Fauble Post-Race: Fauble revealed he won’t be doing a track season this spring.
Shot Clip with Stanley Kebenei
Quick Take: Patrick Tiernan – The Top Non-African-Born Runner in 13th – Was Very Happy About His Run, Particularly How He Recovered After A Quick Start
Tiernan said the start of the race was very hard but he was proud of himself for recovering in the middle. He said he even picked it up in the last 1k and picked off a lot of runners, before ultimately finishing 13th. When asked to compare his fitness now to last fall when he won the NCAA cross country title for Villanova, he said he was in better shape last fall as he took two weeks off from running after winning the Australian 10,000 title on December 8.
Tiernan also announced he’s signed with Nike Australia.
Quick Thought: Jacob Kiplimo – The Winner of The U20 Race – Is A Name You May Want To Remember
The highlight of the day for the wild Ugandan fans was Jacob Kiplimo’s dominant win the U20 boys race. Kiplimo already had made a name for himself – at least on LetsRun.com – last summer when he ran 27:26 to nab the bronze in the World U20 10,000 at the alleged age of just 15 years old.
People may want to doubt his age but there is no doubting his talent.
Here are some videos of the Ugandan crowd going wild.
Team USA’s Paul Roberts (33rd)
Team USA’s Aidan Reed (46th)
Alec Haines (58th)