Canadian head coach Joel Skinner expected his distance runners to face "serious competition" from the Kenyans and Ethiopians to open the 17th IAAF World U20 Championships on Tuesday in Tampere, Finland.
Beatrice Chebet set a personal-best time of 15 minutes 30.77 seconds to become the first Kenyan woman to win the 5,000 metres in the event's history after placing fourth in the 3,000 at the world U18 championships in Nairobi last year.
It marked the first time since 2006 that a non-Ethiopian prevailed as Chebet covered the last lap in 62.66 on an unseasonably warm afternoon.
"I am happy to win the gold medal for my country," Chebet told reporters. "It was tough racing the two Ethiopians as they are strong but I had a good fight with them."
The 18-year-old was the runaway winner of the Kenyan U20 title earlier this year and four months ago was a distant 10th at the Africa cross-country championships.
After vowing to be competitive against the Ethiopians in hopes of ending their dominance, Chebet passed Chebet passed Ejgayehu Taye coming off the final turn and held her off to win by 10-100ths of a second at Tampere Stadium. Taye's 15:30.87 was a PB, as was the 15:34.01 turned in by her teammate and third-place finisher Girmawit Gebregziabher.
"We've proven at the senior international level that distance running is alive and strong in Canada," Skinner said, "and I expect our distance runners to feel the same, and hopefully prove everybody wrong."
Marie-Lyssa Lafontaine, of Laval, Que., was the lone Canadian in the 5,000 and placed 11th in the field of 14 in 16:36.43. The 19-year-old worked her way into fifth spot early on, sat seventh after 2,000 metres and dropped back to 10th with four laps remaining.
Lafontaine posted a 16:23.72 PB on June 10 at the Portland Track Festival, where she placed 24th. She opened her outdoor season in the 5,000 on April 20, running 16:46.44 to finish third among 32 competitors at the Princeton Larry Ellis Invitational in New Jersey.
Kenyan sets meet record in men's 10,000
Canada's Max Turek finished 22nd in Tuesday's 28-man field in the 10,000, stopping the clock in 31:30.07.
Kenya's Rhonex Kipruto set a championship record with his winning time of 27:21.08, while Jacob Kiplimo of Uganda (27:40.36) and Ethiopia's Berihu Aregawi (27:48.41 PB) rounded out the podium.
"I'm very happy, it was a great day," said Kipruto. "It was an honour to represent my country and my people. The competitors were tough but I was able to stay focused."
In April, the 19-year-old Turek from Whitby, Ont., was the recipient of the Mel Hawkrigg Award at Hamilton's McMaster University as outstanding male rookie.
Last fall, he placed third overall at the Ontario University Association cross-country championship in 30:39.5, was a conference all-star on the trails and was the first-ever Marauders male winner of the OUA rookie of the year award.
In February, Turek was seventh over eight kilometres (25:34.0) at the Pan American cross-country championships in El Salvador.
Live streaming from Finland resumes at CBCSports.ca on Wednesday at 2:05 a.m. ET, with five final events scheduled: Women's shot put (9:35), men's long jump (10:55), women's javelin throw (11:50), women's 3,000 metres (11:55) and men's 100 (1:05 p.m.).