AARHUS, Denmark Apr 1 – After earning her first ever title at the World Cross Country championship, Hellen Obiri says her next focus now is on defending her 5,000m title at the IAAF World Championships in Doha in September.
Making her debut in the Cross Country championship Obiri had set sights on earning the title, and that she did becoming the first ever woman to win a major title in the outdoor, indoor and cross country.
“This race was good preparation,” she said. “This race was harder than a track race. It was all about mind games.”
Obiri, one of the most accomplished and versatile athletes racing in the Danish city, revised her opinion after winning the senior women’s 10.24km race on just how tough cross country running is.
“It is the hardest race I have ever done,” she said, “but the best one.”
What made the achievement even more special was that it was her World Cross Country Championships debut and Obiri had never intended to contest the event more than once. Naturally, she was pleased she was able to take victory on what was her first and probably only attempt.
“I wanted to try extra hard,” she said with a smile. “Now I don’t need to do any more cross country.”
The 29-year-old arrived in Aarhus in good form, having clocked 29:59 for 10km on a slightly downhill course in Madrid at the end of December.
Earlier this year she took victories at the IAAF Cross Country Permit meeting in Elgoibar in January, the Defence Forces Championships in Nairobi, and the Kenyan Cross Country Championships in Eldoret last month.
Obiri had contested just a handful of cross-country races prior to 2019, but had always shown potential.
She placed highly in some domestic races in 2011 and 2012 and then won at the prestigious Campaccio meeting in 2017, beating Olympic 1500m champion Faith Kipyegon.
She ventured into the mud three more times in 2018 but with mixed results, finishing fourth at Campaccio, winning the Kenya Defence Forces title, and then placing third in Seville – all within the space of 15 days.
She appeared to find her groove in 2019, though, and lined up in Aarhus as the marginal favourite. But victory didn’t come easily and Obiri did it the hard way, running from the front.
Had her tactic been to lead the race from the start? “No, I hadn’t thought I would do that,” she said. “I didn’t want to be a pacemaker for the others.”
It didn’t do any harm, as such was Obiri’s strength, she still emerged the winner in 36:14, winning by two seconds ahead of Ethiopia’s Dera Dida.
Afterwards, Obiri revealed her secret.
“I did a lot of hills training in preparation for this,” she said.
Obiri is already a formidable competitor, but her experience on Saturday will have only made her a stronger athlete, mentally and physically.
Her first track race of 2019 is set to be the 3000m at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Doha in less than five weeks’ time. And judging by her performance in Aarhus, Obiri will be ready.
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