Letesenbet Gidey wins the U20 women’s race at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships Kampala 2017 (Roger Sedres) © Copyright
AAF-Ethiopia’s Letesenbet Gidey became the fourth woman to win back-to-back U20 titles at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships.
The 19-year-old won gold in Kampala much the same way she clinched her first title on her debut two years ago in Guiyang, China, only this time she couldn’t lead an Ethiopian podium sweep.
As temperatures rose in the Ugandan capital on Sunday afternoon, 108 athletes set off in the six-kilometre contest. The group featured a mix of international competition debutants and those who were winding up their age-group careers.
Former world cross country champion Lorna Kiplagat had described the Kololo Independence Grounds course as one which would give each athlete a chance, but it was still the Kenyans and Ethiopians who set the early pace. The rains, which had been predicted, stayed away much to the relief of the athletes and fans who turned up to watch the country host its first international athletics event.
At the two-kilometre mark the race was stretched out to a leading pack of 10 athletes, six Kenyans and four Ethiopians. Defending champion Gidey tucked in within the group, which also had U18 and U20 steeplechase world champion Celliphine Chepsol of Kenya.
With no international competition experience Kenya’s Hellen Lobun hung on to the lead on the winding course with Chepsol and Gidey as the rest dropped off the pace. Like she did in 2015, Gidey matched the two Kenyans stride for stride as she bid her time to make a move.
The Ethiopian national cross country champion injected a burst of pace almost 500 metres into the final two-kilometre loop and raced on to win her second major international U20 title.
“The course was somehow challenging because of the grown grass and many barriers but am delighted with the victory,” Gidey said.
Hawi Feysa who was third in the Ethiopian nationals worked her way back up the field to win silver while Chespol came home in bronze medal position and Lobun wound up a distant fifth.
In a top 10 dominated by Ethiopians and Kenyans, Uganda’s Peruth Chemutai, a 2016 Olympian in the steeplechase stood out after finishing seventh. The first non-African finisher was Japan’s Tomomi Takamatsu in 15th place.
Gidey now joins compatriot Genzebe Dibaba (2008 and 2009) and Kenyans Viola Kibiwott (2001 and 2002) and Faith Kipyegon (2011 and 2013) as an athlete to have successfully defended an U20 female cross country title. The 5000m runner hopes this can be a launching pad to a successful senior career.
“I want to compete at the world championships in London later this year and this performance gives me great motivation,” she explained.
Gidey’s past track experience hasn’t produced much success: at the 2015 world U18 championships she finished just outside the medal bracket in Cali, Colombia, but at 19 years she still has time to work on it.
Ethiopia beat Kenya to the team title by one point after scoring 19 to take the gold. Uganda’s 62 points was enough for the bronze medal, the country’s second team medal in the category. They first won bronze in 2010.
There was a pile up at the finish line of the race as athletes collapsed due to exhaustion. Australia’s Georgia Evans attributed it to the rising temperatures saying, “Its very hot and the hills on the course put a lot of lactic in the legs and so everyone lost a lot of water generally.”
The competition featured 30 nations, 16 fielding full teams.