|Wilson Kiprop after winning the Nike Discovery Kenya Cross Country event|
It is now five years later and I am still wondering if I will ever get another chance to watch a race even half as amazing as the 2014 Nike Discovery cross country. I always feel my hair rise whenever I recall the battle that had been witnessed and how the crowds had ran around the field seeming to have all gone completely mad. The senior men's race at the Eldoret sports club was …. let’s just use the word amazing, for lack of a better word.
With about 4 km to go for the 12km race, Wilson Kiprop had ran slightly ahead at the front, but whenever he tried to pull himself away, Bedan Karoki would react and close the gap. The last 2km was a very long sprint as Kiprop tried hard to shake off Karoki before they could approach the last kilometer, but the later just kept his ground behind him.
The crowds had gone wild cheering. Some supported Karoki, others supported Kiprop while the rest were just excited by the intense moment when it was not easy to guess who was going to win. The crowd could hardly be contained as the two athletes reached the last 500m. Fans started to run amok and jumped the barriers as they ran along and behind the two athletes cheering. I could hear the announcer over the microphone reminding the fans that there were still other athletes running behind, and that the field should be left orderly, but all was seemingly falling on deaf ears as some tapes were already getting destroyed by people rushing to watch the ending of the race.
With about 50m to go, they were still shoulder to shoulder. Shouts and screams rented the air as Kiprop finally managed a strong sprint that separated them by a close margin. He crossed the finish line, followed the finish tunnel almost to the end, then supported himself with the sticks that held the tapes and looked back at where he had come from, in awe. Bedan Karoki had also passed the finish line and was apparently shaking and leaning on a post too as they looked at each other. For a moment, I thought they were both going to collapse.
The whole place suddenly felt silent as though a storm had just passed. The rest of the athletes began to arrive.
It was one of the most grueling battles I have ever seen and one that I will live to remember for a very long time. It would only seem that Kiprop and Karoki had both sworn to win this race, judging from the way they both ran, but given that the winner had to be one person, it was Kiprop who managed to hold on up to the finish line.
The start of the race had been fast and furious. I have attended many cross country events here in Kenya and have observed how Asbel Kiprop, the 1500m world champion, starts his races and what each start means. That day, he had flown ahead of the field and opened up a 50m gap, followed closely by other middle distance runners that included his usual pace makers during the IAAF Diamond League races and I immediately knew he wasn't going to finish this particular race. Sure enough, he was swallowed up by the chasers after about 3km and he soon dropped out.
Coming towards the 4th kilometer mark, the real contenders finally appeared in the leading pack. They included Bedan Karoki, Isaac Korir, Joseph Kiplimo, Wilson Kiprop and Stanley Biwot, among others. But after another 2km lap, only four athletes remained in the lead before Wilson Kiprop and Bedan Karoki finally broke away from the rest charging the crowds with a lot of excitement.
Cross country races are usually filled with fun and excitement, but this one, in a vast margin, was on a completely different level!