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Will U20 team maintain Kenya's prestige and keep fans smiling?

Heristone Wanyonyi after winning 10,000m race walk during last year's World Athletics U20 Championships at Kasarani Stadium. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

For a country that topped medal charts at the last edition of the World Under-20 championships held at Kasarani Stadium, maintaining the feat should be part of the plan.

Beginning today until August 6, Kenya’s Under-20 squad will be carrying the hopes of the nation at this year’s edition in Cali, Colombia.

The world’s fastest youngsters have been assembled for what is likely to be a magnificent show, characteristic of tough battles for titles.

Last year in Nairobi, Kenya stunned the world after winning 16 medals – eight gold, one silver and seven bronze medals. Finland and Nigeria finished second and third on the medal table with five and seven medals respectively.

Kenya bagged gold medals in 800m through Emmanuel Wanyonyi, 1500m (Vincent Keter), 5000m (Benson Kiplangat), 3000m steeplechase (Amos Serem) and 10,000m race walk (Heristone Wanyonyi).

Apart from Heristone Wanyonyi, Emmanuel Wanyonyi, Kiplangat, Keter and Serem will not be defending their titles. Keter is already 20 and is transiting to senior ranks, while Serem is turning 20 on August 28.

Purity Chepkirui, Teresia Muthoni and Jackline Chepkoech brought home gold in 1500m, 3000m and 3000m steeplechase respectively, last year.
Chepkirui will be defending her title in Cali.

We look at Kenya’s squad, their best times and the possible face-offs as the six days of athletics action begins.

Kenya deployed 800m stars Dominic Kiptoo Barngetuny and Noah Kibet, who secured a bronze medal in Nairobi last year. Barngetuny and Kibet are taking to Cali their 1:47.34 and 1:44.88 personal bests, but will have to contend with their Ethiopian peers.

The Kenyan duo will battle Ermias Girma of Ethiopia, who represented his country at the recently concluded World Championships in Oregon, USA, where he finished fourth in heat one.
In 1500m, teenagers Reynold Cheruiyot and Daniel Kimaiyo will be carrying Kenya’s hopes of winning a medal in the event. But they have Girma of Ethiopia, who will be taking part in both 800m and 1500m, to battle with.

Cheruiyot was second at this year’s Kipkeino Classic Continental Tour in Nairobi. He also chalked up a 1500m win at the Night of Athletics in Heusden-Zolder, Belgium on July 2.
Cheruiyot and Kimaiyo have personal bests of 3:34.02 and 3:36.09 respectively in 1500m.

Edwin Kimosong and Felix Korir have been tasked with the assignment of delivering a medal for Kenya in 3000m. They are taking to Colombia best times of 7:50.71 and 7:52.08.
But they have to face Joel Ibler of Denmark, who has a personal best of 7:49.71 as well as Eritrea’s Habtom Samuel (7:52.69).
Kenya’s Samuel Kibathi and Nelson Mandela will be have to showcase the best of tactics to beat Ethiopians Gebeyehu Belay and Addisu Yihune as well as Ugandans Rogers Kibet and Peter Maru for the 5000m title.
In the 3000m steeplechase, Haron Kibet and Emmanuel Wafula, who have recorded best times of 8:36 and 8:42, will be competing with Ethiopians Samuel Duguna and Samuel Firewu.