Kenyan girls too strong?

The senior men’s race looks to be wide open at Sunday’s 2011 African Cross-Country Championships in Cape Town but the women’s event looks to be very much a Kenyan... Read more

The senior men’s race looks to be wide open at Sunday’s 2011 African Cross-Country Championships in Cape Town but the women’s event looks to be very much a Kenyan affair and our local athletes’ best chance may well come in the team category.

Led by Innes Chenonga, the women from the Rift Valley not only boast individual pedigree, but will also be major contenders for the team title, with the likes of Mercy Cherono and Viola Kibiwott backing up Chenonga.

The 29-year-old Chenonga has by far the fastest 5 000m time (14min 39.19sec) of the field and also finished sixth in that event at the 2009 World Championships, as well as 10th at the 2009 World Cross-Country Championships.

Nineteen-year-old Mercy Cherono is not far off Chenonga’s best 5 000m time. In May last year at the Diamond League meeting in Shanghai, Cherono clocked a 14:47.13. She has also won gold at the World Junior Championships in 2008 and 2010 over 3 000m, but had to settle for silver in the 5 000m in 2010.

Such is the talent of the 19-year-old, that she finished fourth at a European Cross-Country race in Sevilla, Spain (16 January), fourth in Eldoret back in Kenya (23 January) and 13th overall at the Kenyan National Championships on 19 February.

Then there is Viola Kibiwott. The 27-year-old Kenyan finished third at the Eldoret race ahead of Cherono. But it was the youngster who was faster in Shanghai, finishing one place ahead of Kibiwott at the IAAF Diamond League meeting over 5 000m. These two are pretty equally matched and will be doing a lot of the work to try and not only set up a Kenyan individual victory, but also the team prize.

South Africa’s best hope of spoiling the party lies with Lebogang Phalula. Winner of the 1┬á500m at the Yellow Pages meeting in Pretoria last weekend, she also narrowly won the SA Cross Country Trials in Potchefstroom in January ahead of Annerien Van Schalkwyk. Van Schalkwyk made her marathon debut with a 2hr 35min third-place run in Singapore last year and is no slouch over the shorter distances.

Phalula tellingly though was second at the European Cross Country Race in Fuensalida in Spain in January and this will have given her a huge confidence boost that she can mix it with the best.

But the South African team should surely look at focusing on a team medal in Cape Town. Phalula is the obvious ÔÇ£leaderÔÇØ of the pack. But Van Schalkwyk, Phalula’s sister Lebo, national 800m champion Mapaseka Makhanya, 3 000m steeplechase record holder Teboho Masehla and national 5 000m champion Rene Kalmer, could very well medal in the team category, if they come into the finish fairly close together.

Article written by