Athletics stars gear for Uhuru Gardens races

Geoffrey Kamworor(322) leads the pack in 10km men race during the IAAF Permit/National cross country championship at Nairobi's Uhuru Gardens on Feb 13, 2016. [PHOTO:DENNIS OKEYO/STANDARD]

The adrenaline levels are running high ahead of the Lotto National Cross Country Championships at Uhuru Gardens in Nairobi tomorrow.

It’s a do-or-die contest as world beating stars battle for slots to the fifth Africa Cross Country Championships that run in Chlef, Algeria, on March 17.

The stars, who will square it out with a field of upstarts, must put their best foot forward to earn the prized tickets after Athletics Kenya scrapped the traditional wild card selection criteria.

Kenyan trials are notorious for producing hitherto unknowns, who often treat established world-class stars with disdain and the national championships cannot be ruled out.

Paul Mutwii, the Athletics Kenya senior vice-president in charge of competitions, said the national cross championships Local Organising Committee had resolved that no athlete will get wild card.

 “All runners competing on Saturday (tomorrow) will have to struggle, give their best and finish in the top six to be selected. It is 1-6 across the line. No wild cards.

“We expect to select a strong team. As a country, we are blessed with huge talent athletes and the absence of top athletes who will be representing the country in World Half Marathon and those competing April marathons in Europe and America will not affect our team selections what-so-ever.”

Some of the top stars will miss out while others will use the contest as dress rehearsals ahead of major marathons in April -London Marathon, Paris Marathon, Rotterdam Marathon and Boston Marathon.

Bedan Karoki, the 2015 world cross country silver medalist, competed this morning at the RAK half marathon in United Arab Emirates while Leonard Barsoton, the 2017 world cross country silver medalist, will also miss out.

For the last three years, Nairobi and South Rift have dominated the under-20 competition with world under-20 3,000m steeplechase champion Cellphine Chespol, Sandra Felis Chebet and Richard Kimunyan running the shows.

Justus Soget and Ronex Kipruto, the 2017 National Secondary Schools 8km cross country champion, are among fresh graduates in the senior men’s race.  

Leonard Bett, the world under-18 2,000m steeplechase champion, world under-18 1,500m silver medalist Edward Zakayo and Japan-based Wesley Ladema are some of the top guns in men’s junior race.

In the women’s junior race, Africa junior cross country champion Mirriam Cherop, world under-18 2,000m steeplechase champion Caren Chebet and Ednah Jebitok will battle in junior women race.

Nancy Jesang and Nesphine Jepleting highlight Coast region squad as Fancy Cherono and Sarah Kwemoi carry Western region’s flag.