Kenya, Thanks to Asbel Kiprop, Goes Wire to Wire to Win Inaugural Mixed Relay at 2017 World Cross Country Champs

March 26, 2017 

KAMPALA, Uganda — In a dominant display fitting of their status as the #1 power in distance running, Kenya, which started with 1500m star Asbel Kiprop on the first leg, went wire to wire to win the first-ever mixed relay at the 2017 World Cross Country Championships in 22:22 as Ethiopia was eight seconds back in second and Turkey was a further seven seconds back for bronze. Those three were clearly best as Bahrain was 43 seconds behind Turkey in 4th. The United States was sixth after Olympic 5000m silver medallist Paul Chelimo passed three teams on the anchor leg.

Despite not being the reigning Olympic champion, Kiprop is the top 1500m runner in the world. Considering he also won the World Junior Cross Country Championship 10 years ago in Mombasa, Kenya, the roughly 4x2000m cross country relay on paper was perfect for him.

World XC Champs by Roger Sedres for IAAF World XC Champs by Roger Sedres for IAAF

He showed that to be the case and did not wait for the kick to pull away from the pack. He ended up handing off in first, 6 seconds ahead of Ethiopia’s unheralded Welde Tufa.

This being a new event, no one knew what the strategy of the teams was going to be as each team got to set its own running order. All of the top teams ended up running a man on the first leg, hoping to get out fast and out of trouble. That included host Uganda, which entered a line-up with a woman running first. However, when Uganda saw the other teams line-ups, they switched their order and ran a man on the first leg and were subsequently DQ’d.

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Ethiopia was saving its two best relative legs for last, having world indoor 3000m champ Yomif Kejelcha on the third leg and world superstar Genzebe Dibaba on the anchor so it was imperative for Kenya to keep or stretch its lead.

On the second leg, Kenya and Ethiopia has two unproven runners squaring off. Kenya ran the up-and-coming Winfried Nzisa Mbithe (4th at world junior 1500m last year) and Ethiopia had Bone Cheluke whom, as we said in our preview, we knew nothing about as she had no previous international experience. Cheluka ran smartly for a novice, starting off conservatively and letting the Turkish team pass her and the Ugandan team come up on her, but she saved something for the end to repass them. She did, however, lose 9 seconds to Mbithe, who handed off 15 seconds ahead of her.

Now was the time for Ethiopia to close the gap, as they had the 3000m indoor world champ Kejelcha taking on world junior 1500m 4th place finisher Bernard Koros. Kejelcha was able to close the gap to 10 seconds (note the splits online are off; we timed the gap ourselves).

On the anchor, Ethiopia had 1500m world record holder Genzebe Dibaba while Kenya had 4th placer at the Olympic steeplechase Beatrice Chepkoech. Making up 10 seconds was not inconceivable for Dibaba but she could not do it and Chepkoech held on to win by 8 seconds over Dibaba.

Turkey comfortably held off Uganda, who was subsequently DQ’d, for bronze.

QT #1: Let’s Try This Again
After the first leg, this was just a time trial for each runner as the field was spread out. Beforehand there was talk of men racing women but by and large that didn’t happen, at least with the best teams. Considering Asbel Kiprop and Genzebe Dibaba both ran this event, we’re willing to give it another chance. We even had an internal debate as to whether teams should have to draw out of a hat whether they run a man or woman first to spice things up, but if you re-ran this race it today it easily could have had more drama.

QT #2: The US Fans Would Have Loved to See Chelimo vs Kiprop

The US team was overmatched here so it would have been better for US fans to see how Paul Chelimo could have done versus Kiprop heads up. The US ran a man first, Cory Leslie, but then ran two women next and anchored with Chelimo.

We ran into Chelimo’s coach Scott Simmons during the race and he said he proposed to USATF putting Chelimo first.

QT #3: Props to Kiprop and Dibaba for Running This One
With cross country returning to Africa and the introduction of a shorter race, Kiprop said he felt some sort of obligation to run this race. We wish more stars felt the same and it was nice to see Dibaba out there as well.

Kiprop said after the race that he’s not in great shape right now and that today’s race served as a necessary shock to his system.

“I have to experience a bit of pain in order to come back and train well,” Kiprop said.

Don’t worry distance fans, Kiprop hasn’t been hurt; he deliberately started his training later this year in order to peak better for the end of the season. Last year, Kiprop dominated the early-season Diamond League meets but was only sixth in Rio, a fate he’d like to avoid in London in August.

QT #4: Paul Chelimo Turns to Track

Chelimo did his best today but now turns his attention to the track where he noted he is still undefeated in 2017. He said he wants to keep it that way through the World Champs. Are you listening Mo Farah?

Chelimo will run the Carlsbad 5000 and then fly back to Kenya for some more training prior to the Diamond League opener in Doha on May 5th.

Cory Leslie to Focus on 1500 This Year

Leslie is best known as a steepler but has run quick fairly quick at 1500 (3:34.93). 

Results * Splits

1 KENYA KENKEN 22:22  
8 SPAIN ESPESP 24:29  
10 ITALY ITAITA 25:14  
11 SUDAN SUDSUD 25:53  


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