Kenyan junior stars steal the show at Ngong course

World School Cross Championship

Kenya's Phanuel Koech celebrates raising the national flag after winning the Boys Under-18 title during the World Schools Cross Country Championships at Ngong Race Course on May 12, 2024.

Photo credit: Chris Omollo| Nation

Kenya could not have asked for a more memorable debut on the International School Sport (ISF) stage with an impressive performance both on and off the track at the 24th World Schools Cross Country Championships.

Since joining the affiliation in 2019, Kenya has had to wait until 2024 to make its debut on this stage due to Covid-19, which disrupted sporting activities between 2020 and 2022.

Kenya underlined its prowess in cross-country after dominating all six categories to wrest the title from Uganda, who were favourites after their exploits in Slovakia last year.

On Sunday May 12, six races will be held in the U-18, U-15 and U-12 categories for both boys and girls. The hosts won six gold, six silver and five bronze medals to underline their dominance in athletics and give hope that the future is indeed secure. Uganda won a rare bronze in the boys' U-12 race, a pale shadow of their performance last year.

Kenya's world beaters believe their success at the championships will inspire them to more glory at junior and eventually senior level.

Sheila Chepkosgei Tarus, the U-12 girls' champion, is hoping to win more races and travel the world. "I finished fourth in the trials for this competition and my aim in coming here today was to finish first and I'm happy that I did," said Chekosgei.

"I hope my dream of boarding a plane and representing my country in international events will come true," added the Tiloa Primary School pupil.

In the boys' race, the rivalry between Kenya and Uganda was fierce, but the hosts again triumphed thanks to the support of the home crowd, including President William Ruto.

"We were told that Uganda would be our biggest threat and we had to be at our best. I am so happy to have won here today and this victory encourages me to continue with my athletics career," said race winner Hezron Kimurgor, a form six pupil at Township Primary School in Nandi District. 

Jane Wangare, who won gold in the girls' under-15 category, is always inspired by watching world cross-country champion Beatrice Chebet.

"She (Chebet) is always humble and speaks her mind on the track and on the course. If I ever get the chance to meet her, I would want her to teach me how to be a better athlete and always stay focused," said the Form One pupil from Kiambogo Secondary School.

She is confident that Kenya will continue to do well in future ISF competitions. It was something we talked about the night before. We wanted to dominate the race and make the country proud. I had told myself that I would be happy with a top 10 finish, so to win this race makes me so happy," said Wangari.

With the support of President William Ruto, who graced yesterday's event, Kenya showed that it can successfully host international sporting events.

Athletics powerhouse

Kenya signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the ISF in November 2023 to host the biennial championships, which until yesterday had only been held once in Africa, in Marrakech, Morocco, in 2000. Kenya Secondary Schools Sports Association (KSSSA) chairman Kipchumba Maiyo, who signed the MoU on behalf of Kenya, hailed the organisation and effort that went into ensuring the country hosted a world-class event. 

"As an athletics powerhouse, we had no choice but to work round the clock to deliver a great competition. I thank the government for the support and all the stakeholders who worked round the clock to give us this great championship," said Maiyo.

Over 400 athletes from 22 nations took part in the event.