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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 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.


7 comments
Emmanuel
Emmanuel

I think we need to revisit the past,it is the only way that can make South Africa to move forward in athletics.we tend to forget about those who had put us on the map,and what make them to achieve what they had achieved.The Athletes,Coaches,Officials,etc.lets work all of us together to achieve a common goal,so that the next coming generation would not struggle to become winners for us.regards:E.N Jacobs

Mark Etheridge
Mark Etheridge

Hi Ronnie ... I asked James Evans to respond to your points and true to form he has come back with this answer, hope it helps you. James says: This is a very good point and goes a long way to explaining why we do not perform as well as we should at the World Championships. The current ASA Board only assumed office in late September and the handover of the administration of the sport to the current Board was only done by SASCOC in November. It was too late to arrange new fixtures, camps, etc, for cross country. The ASA Cross Country Commission are looking at this issue already and have made preliminary proposals for a more focussed national season with elite cross country events in the build up to the World or African Championships every year. It will only be possible to impliment this later this year for the 2012 African Cross Country Championships. South Africa used to be a world leader in the middle and long distances, and with proper planning there is no reason why our athletes cannot take on the athletes from Kenya and Ethiopia. That is one of ASA's aims.

Teddy Bear
Teddy Bear

Dear Ronnie This reminds me of the USA. George Bush had 2 terms and he messed America up after he recieved it in a good state. Now Barack Obama is expected to clean America up in less than 1 year. People were already calling him a failure within 2 months of taking office in the White House. Just a comment on your statement. Ted

XC Champ
XC Champ

Yebo Ronnie -It's easy to talk from the workstation and make statements about radical changes (manifestos and the works) but the reality is that there are processes. The new leadership have presented the calendar a long time ago. Why were you sleeping then? Why did you not raise the matter at the time of the calendars being released or is your Provincial office in Mpumalanga not keeping you updated on the calendar. Remember what happened under the leadership of Mali and Stander? Things were put in place which people were only informed of at the 11th hour and as a result South Africa sent its smallest teams to the various championships and couldn't even defend their African Champions title...do you remember? So therefore the new leadership must respect the views of the coaches who took the time to make the trip to Bloemfontein from Limpopo, eKapa and wherever alse to make input on the future of the sport at the time. The fact is that decisions were taken (silenced or not) and that was the forum to make such recommendations. Those who were scared to go must now be quiet and accept it. It's like complaining about the ANC government but you refuse to stand in the long queues to register and vote. haaibo you have no right to complain. You should learn from Egypt and Tunisia my broer. When I was a cross country runner we never had all these opportunity. The team was selected after the SA's and we had to train for the World Champs. Now at least theres the Trials in January. Lets build our sport in a responsible way Rodney or else we will always be complaining no matter who is in charge. If the leadership are bad for our sport then we must expose them but when there is an opportunity to make contributions we must not be relaxing at home and then when the decisions are in place we become passionate about the sport again. Long live athletics!

Ronnie
Ronnie

Thanks XC Champ. Your comments are noted. However, the comments are directed at the ASA leadership who are not so new anymore. Some of them have been part of the set-up for a very long time. When they availed themselves, they should have had plans to take the sport forward and not wait to be elected and then plan for the rest of the term whilst in office. Therefore manifesto' s are essential so that when the AGM elects, they know who to elect. Regarding your mentioned coaches symposium, the former care-taker administration silenced people and they did not want to contribute! The coaches make excuses about the weather. In February, when the Kenyans have their trials, it is also very hot and humid in Kenya' s Rift Valley. Not to mention the dusty roads that athletes have to use to train. All I am saying is that ASA need to create opportunities for our athletes to compete in before the African and World champs, like the rest of the world.

XC Champ
XC Champ

Ron - great observation but I think you cannot expect the new ASA leadership to suddenly throw in a Cross Country program into the set up after it has been in place for a while. I suggest that you speak at the Coaches Symposium and arrange for the Cross Country season to be moved. It was opposed in 2010 at the Coaches symposium where the top coaches in SA suggested that the Trials as well as the African Champs were adequate preparation for the World Champs. So take some responsibility and make some progressive suggestions to take Athletics forward. You are clearly an asset to the sport so make use of the avenues that are available and make the contributions that takes the Cross Country perspective into consideration because at the symposium there were also complaints that it was already too hot in September. January and February are even hotter my friend so maybe its time for all the top coaches to reassemble and find a viable solution.

Ronnie
Ronnie

I hope that the caretaker of ASA, lead by James Evans can respond to this: How on earth do you expect the South African Athletes to compete with the Rift Valley athletes from Kenya as well as Ethopia, Eritrea, Uganda, etc when they have Cross Country competitions before the African and World Cross country champs! As it stands, South Africans only compete in 1 Cross Country competition before the champs.... that is the trials in January. Before that, it is the SA champs, which is in September. Please get somebody for the ASA board to respond.