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Marathon squad oozes confidence ahead of tourney

World Marathon Champion Ruth Chepng'etich during Athletics Kenya Track and Field Championships at Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani. April 9, 2022. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

At 4:15pm on Sunday, the planets will have aligned in the athletics universe and the stars will be ready to collide in the most spectacular fashion imaginable.

And three athletes in two-time New York Marathon winner Geoffrey Kamworor, former Boston Marathon winner Lawrence Cherono and Barnabas Kiptum will shoulder the hopes of millions of Kenyan athletics fans as they line up in men’s marathon showdown at the 18th World Athletics Championships in Eugene, Oregon, in USA.

Questions still abound on whether the three will turn tables on arch rivals Ethiopia, who ruled the roost at the 2019 World Championships in Doha, Qatar.

Amos Kipruto won bronze in the 2019 world marathon won by Ethiopia’s Lelisa Desisa. His compatriot Mosinet Geremew clinched silver.

Ruth Chepng’etich saved Kenyans blushes when she won gold in women’s marathon in Doha 2019, and will be defending her title in Oregon on Monday, at 4:15pm.

The Ethiopian duo in Desisa and Geremew, who delivered gold and silver in Doha, will line up in Oregon and Kenyans will need to be in their form to stop the Ethiopian aggression.

In the men’s category, Kamworor longs to add a global marathon jewel into his bulging trophy cabinet.

With four world gold medals in cross country and three others in the world half marathon, Kamworor’s success in Oregon will add to his two stunning wins in the New York City marathon. He is taking to the global showpiece a 2:05:23 personal best set in Valencia in December.

Kamworor, who picked up athletics while a student at Lelboinet Boys High School in Elgeyo Marakwet, pulled out of the Tokyo Marathon last year, where he was to compete in 10,000m.

Cherono will be seeking to make a comeback and write history in a major world show after finishing fourth at the Tokyo Olympics where he was beaten by Dutch’s Abdi Negeeye and Bashir Abdi of Belgium on the homestretch.

Geoffrey Kamworor celebrating after winning the 10,000m race at the National trials for the Tokyo Olympic Games at The Moi International Sports Stadium, Kasarani, June 18, 2021. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

Cherono, 34, has had a successful marathon career and will be chasing his maiden medal in the national team.

His 2:03:04 best mark in 42km recorded at the Valencia marathon ranks Cherono the eighth fastest marathoner of all time. He clocked 2:04:06 to win the Amsterdam Marathon in October 2018.

Cherono won the 2019 Boston and Chicago marathons.

In Boston, he outsprinted two-time winner of the race and world silver medallist Lelisa Desisa on the final stretch at Boylston Street. He also out-sprinted three other athletes in the final 200 metres in the Chicago Marathon battle. He will renew his battle with Desisa in Oregon.

Cherono, who won Amsterdam Marathon in 2017 in a course record of 2:05:09 in 2018, has come a long way.

Kiptum set his personal best last year when he ran 2:04:17 at the Milan Marathon, where he finished third.

Still unknown on the athletics scene, Kiptum finished third at the Milan marathon early this year and will make his debut in the national team.

“This is a dream come true. I have been longing to wear the national colours and this is the right time to do so. I have prepared well for the championships, where there are no pacesetters with hopes of claiming podium position,” he said.

On the women’s front, attention will be on defending champion Ruth Chepng’etich, who will marshal forces with Judith Jeptum, who set a French all-comers’ record of 2:19:48 at this year’s Paris Marathon and Angela Tanui, winner of the 2021 Amsterdam Marathon in 2:17:57, to deliver the women’s medals in the marathon.

Kenyan Lawrence Cherono, celebrates winning the Men's Elite race at the 123rd Boston Marathon on April 15, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts.

On Friday, Olympic marathon champion Peres Jepchirchir pulled out of the championship after she picked thigh injury.

Reigning Amsterdam Marathon winner Angela Tanui hopes team will work well for them. Tanui, who won 2018 Venice Marathon, said:

“This is a privilege and I want to do my best and win a medal. Looking at the team, we have strong athletes and team work will help us sweep the podium. This is my dream and I hope it will come to pass,” said Tanui.

“The world championships will be my major race after competing at the Tokyo marathon this year, when I finished fourth. Being in the Kenya team means a lot for me,” she added.

Kenya’s women’s squad will be closely watching Ababel Yeshaneh’s moves in the Sunday world marathon race.

Yeshaneh broke the world record in the half marathon, timing 1:04:31 at the Ras Al Khaimah half marathon in 2020. She has a marathon personal best of 2:20:51 set at the 2019 Chicago Marathon, where she finished second.

Alongside Yeshaneh, the Ethiopian squad has Berlin marathon champion Gotytom Gebreslase and Ashete Bekere, who cruised to victories in Berlin (2019), Valencia (2018) and Rotterdam (2019).

Gebreslase won the 2021 edition of Berlin marathon in her debut.

The men’s and women’s marathons will be staged on a typically flat 14km looped course that will run through Eugene and Springfield. The course will take athletes through a blend of scenery and historic features.

According to organisers, marathoners will start and finish in front of the University of Oregon’s Autzen Stadium.

The loop begins on Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard, named after the American civil rights agitator. From there, it moves into Alton Baker Park, a 413-acre natural area in Eugene.

While on Day Island Road within Alton Baker Park, the route will follow alongside Pre’s Trail.

Designated as a City of Eugene historic landmark in 2019, Pre’s Trail is a bark running trail that celebrates University of Oregon track and field legend Steve Prefontaine.

The course will cross over the splendid Willamette River, considered the lifeblood of the Willamette Valley, and then move into the City of Springfield.

Contenders will traverse Main Street before running beneath the canopy of a stretch of giant sequoia trees.