Slightly over 10,000 fans graced the second edition of the World Cross Country Gold Tour, the Sirikwa Classic, at the Lobo Village in Eldoret on Saturday.
The turnout surpassed last year’s event that was known as Memorial Agnes Tirop World Cross Country Golf Tour, a sign that the event is growing in status.
As Nation Media Group’s Nation Television beamed live the championships shortly before 1pm, and so did the receptive crowd cheer the explosive action on the two kilometres race at the backdrop of musical interlude.
Close to 600 athletes drawn from 16 countries competed for top honours and as usual, Kenyans ran away with most of the goodies including the top cash award of US Dollars 6,000 (Sh750,000) for the winners in each of the senior races.
Fans started trooping into the venue as early as 7.00am before taking strategic positions as they waited for the athletes to line up for their various events.
The completion of the Eldoret-Kapseret bypass made it easy to access the venue that had two entry points.
The kids race got the day-long proceedings at 10.00am with the late inclusion, the Community race, proving a thriller with participants donning all manner of shades.
And fans were treated to spectacular views as they followed action from some of the big screens that were erected at vantage points.
The loop that had a raised stage where traditional dances did their jig as athletes cruised past proved one of the fans favourites just like the tent where soft music hummed as the athletes snaked through it.
It was a sight to behold as athletes cleared the three artificial hills with the hay and steeplechase challenge proving a thriller for fans as some athletes stumbled on them.
Sports Cabinet Secretary Ababu Namwamba who briefly witnessed the race said that the government is keen on talent development and promised to make the global event even better in the coming years.
“Kenya has been known for athletics across the world and this is what brings the highest honour. It is our number one foreign earner hence the need for good training facilities,” said Namwamba, adding that the government is developing a plan to improve sports infrastructure.
Former 5,000m World champion Vivian Cheruiyot, who was expected to compete in the women’s 10km senior race withdrew at the last minute from the race but she managed to watch with other fans.
During the prize presentation in various categories, athletes were used to present awards to the medalists with the World and Olympics 800m champion Emmanuel Korir and former 1,500m World champion Nancy Lagat rewarding the Under-20 women category.
Multiple World 3,000m steeplechase champion Ezekiel Kemboi rewarded the 6km junior men while former World 3,000m steeplechase champion Milcah Chemos presented the medals to the 5km junior women athletes.
Olympic marathon champion Peres Jepchirchir, who witnessed the race said that Kenya has shown good progress in organizing international events and seeing athletes battling it out at home was a good thing.
“This is a good race and many athletes who are going to the marathon races and track events are using this for build up ahead of their races. I was glad to see Faith Chepng’etich competing and winning the race which is a good transition despite her having started in the cross country events earlier in her career,” said Jepchirchir.