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Will Korir lead genuine shot in Oregon?

Emmanuel Korir, of Kenya, wins the men's 800-meter final at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2021, in Tokyo. (AP Photo

At the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Emmanuel Korir spread his arms wide as he crossed the line to victory in men’s 800m as if to announce that he was ready to assume David Rudisha's mantle as king of the two-laps event.

And this time, Korir has been given the mantle to lead Kenyans to a genuine shot at the World Championship that starts Friday in Oregon, United States.

Apart from Korir, Kenya has three other entrants; the reigning Commonwealth Games champion Wycliffe Kinyamal and fast-rising stars duo of Emmanuel Wanyonyi and Noah Kibet.

Going by this season’s performance, it will be almost impossible to single out serious gold contenders in Oregon, but the American-based Korir, who has a season best of 1:45.85 and Kinyamal, who clocked the fastest time of the season 1:43.54, when he won the Kenyan trials last month, will no doubt be some of the race favourites.  

Wanyonyi, a world under-20 champion and second-place finisher during the Kenyan trials, is another obvious medal contender, having won Rabat Diamond League last month. He has a season best of 1:44.1.

Korir remains optimistic that he will be repeat his Olympics performance in Oregon, despite running a season best of 1:45.85.

“I’m not under pressure, but I'm a strong believer that I can always do well at the big stage. It’s just a matter of planning well and executing," said Korir, who is coached by 1988 Summer Olympics 800m champion Paul Ereng.

Kinyamal believes he is slowly getting back to his best shape after a series of injury woes and Oregon worlds presents him with an opportunity to exploit his ability to give a world stage performance. 

"In 2019, I wasn’t fit enough. I had just recovered from injury, so I didn’t make it to Doha. I hope to make my World championships debut in style by making it to the podium," Kinyamal said.

At just 17, Wanyonyi, who is coached by Janeth Jepkosgei, the 2007 Osaka gold medallist over the two-laps event, is in pursuit of perfection as he lines up in senior events.

"My win in Rabat (Diamond League) gave me confidence that I can compete with the big boys, and that’s why I’m not restricting myself to junior races. Oregon will be the big stage for me but I have nothing to lose,” said Wanyonyi.

Emmanuel Wanyonyi celebrating after clocking 1:43.76 record in 800m final during World Athletics U20 Championships at the Moi International Sports Complex. Aug 22, 2021. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

Kibet,17, opened his season with a silver medal at World Indoors Championships in Belgrade in March and was Diamond League season opener winner in Doha in May. He has also been named in the team to the world under-20 in Cali Colombia. His fastest time of the season is 1:44.89 in Ostrava.

The Kenyans will face strong challenge from Algeria's African champion Slimane Moula, who has been in incredible form alongside his compatriot Djamel Sedjati, who has season best of 1:43.69.

Canadian Marko Arop with a season best of 1:43.61 and Frenchman Pierre-Ambroise Bosse, the 2017 World Champion, will spice up the event.

Reigning 800m world champion Donavan Brazier of the United States has been battling injuries with his only appearance being Doha Diamond League in May and may not be at his best to defend his title in front of his home crowd.

Brazier will be in the company of Bryce Coppel, whose season best stands at 1:44.60, former Kenyan Jonah Koech and Clayton Murphy.

Of the 43 individual winners from the 2019 edition, 37 will defend their titles in Oregon. 42 individual gold medallists from last year’s Olympic Games in Tokyo will also be in action.