When the Kenyan team lined up for the World Half Marathon in Brussels last week, Paul Kosgei was never considered among the favourites.
World 10,000 metres champion, Charles Kamathi and Robert Cheruiyot were the better rated Kenyans.
Kamathi's and Cheruiyot's profiles were boosted by their having posted impressive results over the same distance. While Kamathi finished second in Stramilano in February, Cheruiyot won the Ostie half marathon in 1:00.06.
Besides Kamathi and Cheruiyot, the other names that featured prominently included those of last year's runner-up Jifar Tesfaye of Ethiopia, two-time cross country champion Mohammed Mourhit, two-time World Half marathon silver medallist Hendrick Ramala and Tanzania's Yuda Johns, who finished third last year.
But all said and done, Kosgei, a former junior 3000m steeplechase champion shocked everybody. He arrived in Brussels with nothing tangible to show but left not only a hero but with a big smile on his face. Kosgei had only a bronze medal, which he won in the 10,000 metres during the Africa Military games in Nairobi to show. Besides, he was still coming to terms with his dropping from the national cross country team last March.
He braved chilly conditions on the streets of Brussels to record his biggest victory that came in the last 10 metres. Morocco's Gharib Jaouad who came second had been a thorn in Kosgei's flesh all through, occasionally blocking and obstructing the Kenyan.
However, Kosgei came out when it mattered most. He went past the obstruction and powered to victory amid wild cheers from the approximately 20,000 fans. By so doing, Kosgei steered the Kenyan team to its fourth overall victory.
Subsequently, he joined a long list of Kenyans who have won the individual men's title. Kenya won the inaugural event in 1992, courtesy of Benson Masya. Moses Tanui did it in 1995, with Shem Kororia winning the 1997 edition. Paul Koech took charge in 1998 before paving way for record holder Paul Tergat to clinch it in 1999 and 2000. In the women's category only Tegla Loroupe managed to win the title three times in a row (1997-1999).
Among the pre-race favourites, only Yuda of Tanzania managed to finish third. He finished in the same position last year. Runner-up last year, Tesfaye, was relegated to fifth place while Kamathi of Kenya finished ninth. Ramala was placed 15th with Mourhit finishing outside the top 20. Cheruiyot pulled out at the 16 km mark with an injury. Cheruiyot, however, will have himself to blame as he had gone against the coach's advise to act as a pace setter for the rest of the pack. "I warned him and advised him to remain under cover but he did not heed my advice," said coach Dan Omwanza.
In the women's category, Loroupe was a pale shadow of herself finishing 43rd. The champion has suffered a recurrence of back problems that have affected her performances over the last three years. According to coach Volker Wagner, Loroupe has a loose bone in her spine that is pressing on a nerve and sporadically gives her considerable pain. She is to undergo an examination to see whether it will be possible to operate.
Kenya's Susan Chepkemei maintained her form, only failing in her final kick. Chepkemei thus won her third silver in a row and was quick to express her disappointment. "I am not happy at all. I thought this time I would improve my performance but I am disappointed to have settled for silver again, " she said.
Chepkemei finished second behind Briton Paula Radcliffe in 2000 and 2001. This time round and in the absence of the champion Chepkemei had seen a chance to rule the event. Little did she know that Ethiopia's Adere Berhane would "mess" up her party. The 28-year-old Berhane won the final kick to take the gold, timed at 1:09:06. Prokopcuka Jelena of Latvia took a hard-fought bronze.
Other big names - Marleen Renders (Belgium), Sonia O'sullivan (Ireland) and Japanese Mizuki Noguchi - also failed to impress.
While Renders finished eighth, Nuguchi and O'Sullivan were placed ninth and 14th respectively. The three had started off well until the half mark when they failed to keep pace with the leaders.
Kenya clinched the men's title, thanks to Kamathi and Paul Kirui who finished ninth and 10th respectively. Kenya's Chepchumba and Lenah Cheruiyot were placed fifth and seventh respectively to give Kenya the title. Iness Chenonge on the other hand finished 20th but after a well done pace -making job in the opening 10 km.
Despite winning the overall title, Kenya still needs to go back to the drawing board to review their running techniques.
There is no doubt the country is blessed with athletics talent but other countries have been capitalising on Kenya's poor techniques.