Jinja — No Cheptegei, no problem. The early part of the year is always a busy time for middle-distance athletes and this is certainly the case for those who did well at national cross country championship at Mayor's Gardens, Jinja on Saturday.
The championship saw the best distance runners lineup for the first race of the season, a stepping stone before the Commonwealth Games in April and the Africa Junior Championships next month.
Distance runners had not been in action for the past three trials at Namboole and they made up for the disappointment with fine performances.
Philip Kipyeko, the 2016 winner, was obviously disappointed to finish behind Thomas Ayeko as they had planned to cross the line together only for the time keepers to find him 2 micro-seconds late.
That aside, all the top ten finishers had a better time compared to the 29:02 Cheptegei ran at the same course last year.
The absence of Jacob Kiplimo and Joshua Cheptegei left an open race that was up for the taking.
Up to 12 runners were in the leading pack for the great part of the race until 2016 champ Kipyeko, Ayeko, Wakana and Bushendich wheeled away from the pretenders.
Kipyeko was in a strong lead from that moment on and only relaxed to wait for his 'friend' who unfortunately stole the gold to earn his place on the Commonwealth team too.
"How come? We were supposed all to be number one," a bewildered Kipyeko questioned the marshals.
It was a different story in the senior girls' race, where defending champion Mercyline Chelangat, Stella Chesang and Janat Chemusto led from start to finish.
"I knew I was going to win and during the last lap, I decided to use the hill section to break clear from my challengers," Chelangat told Daily Monitor.