For Kenyan juniors, it's time to upstage the veterans in Budapest

By Stephen Rutto | Aug 01, 2023
Kenya's Brenda Chebet leading pack of 800m race at the World Athletics U20 Championships at the Moi International Sports Complex. Aug 18, 2021. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

Legendary athlete Sally Barsosio basked in glory at the 1997 Athens World Championships in Greece, then aged 19.

In a spectacular fashion, Barsosio; now 45, won gold in 10,000m and became the youngest Kenyan to post such a historic achievement.

Then came reigning marathon world record holder Eliud Kipchoge, who won the 5,000m gold medal at the 2003 Paris World Championships aged just 18.

And several Kenyan junior athletes are looking to follow in Barsosio's and Kipchoge's footsteps when they line up at the 2023 Budapest World Championships from August 19-27.

On their shoulders, the youngsters are carrying the hopes of a country considered one of the world's athletics powerhouses.

Kenya selected a team to represent her in its medal hunt at the upcoming international showpiece.

The youngsters have proved their resilience and tactics in Under-20 global events and displayed extraordinary racing before joining their senior compatriots for the blistering World Championship trials in Nairobi in July.

In the Kenyan contingent to Budapest are at least five athletes aged between 18 and 19 years as well as a 20-year-old rising star who is transitioning to the senior ranks with a tough assignment ahead of him.

Standard Sport looks at the young men and women seeking to write history.

Emmanuel Wanyonyi competes in 800 Men semifinal 2 race during the Trials for World Athletics Championship held at Nyayo National stadium in Nairobi on July 07, 2023.[Stafford Ondego, Standard]

Emmanuel Wanyonyi, 18, Men's 800m

Wanyonyi, who trains under former world 800m champion Janeth Jepkosgei's close watch in Nandi, has displayed astonishing dominance in the two-lap race since 2021.

Since 2021 when he lit up Kasarani Stadium by winning gold in 800m and setting a championship record during the World Under-20 Championships, Wanyonyi has been on the rise.

This season marked Wanyonyi's fast rise to 800m stardom.

In May, he won the Kip Keino Classic Continental Tour in Nairobi in style before recording another triumph at the Rabat Diamond League meet in Morocco.

At the Rabat Diamond League leg where he started off his campaign this season, Wanyonyi made it clear that his sights were focused on flying the Kenyan flag at the Budapest World Championships. He registered a 1:44.36.

He followed his Rabat win with another phenomenal victory in Paris, recording 1:43.27.

"I grew up in a poor family in Trans Nzoia and I have to train harder and be disciplined because I know my athletics career will uplift my family. My siblings dropped out of school because of lack of fees and basic necessities," Wanyonyi said in an interview at Kosirai High School.

Jackline Chepkoech of Team Kenya celebrates winning the gold medal in the Women's 3000m Steeplechase Final. [Kelly Ayodi, Standard]

Jackline Chepkoech, 19, women's 3,000m steeplechase

Chepkoech blazed to a well-timed victory at the London Diamond League on July 23, finishing ahead of World Record holder Beatrice Chepkoech.

At the age of 18, she won a gold medal at the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, setting the Games record in the process.

Chepkoech was the 2021 World Under-20 champion and will be representing Kenya alongside her mentor, Beatrice.

At the recent London Diamond League circuit, Chepkoech shattered the women's Under-20 record with her impressive time of 8:57.35. The previous 8:58.78 mark was set by Celliphine Chespol at Hayward Field, Eugene, USA.

Kenya's Faith Cherotich celebrates with the flag after winning the women's 3,000m steeplechase final at the World Athletics Under-20 Championships in Cali, Colombia on August 5, 2022. [Athletics Kenya]

Faith Cherotich, 19, women's 3,000m steeplechase

Cherotich has competed in the steeplechase in the last two World Under-20 Championships, winning gold in Cali last year and a bronze in Nairobi (2021).

She finished third behind Beatrice Chepkoech and Jackline Chepkoech during the national trials in Nairobi in July.

Cherotich competed with Jackline Chepkoech at the 2021 World Under-20 Championships at Kasarani Stadium.

The duo had plotted a 1-2 finish (gold-silver) for Kenya during the global show, but Ethiopian Zerfe Wondemagegn disrupted the plan and eventually, she settled for bronze as Cherotich clinched the title.

The Budapest World Championships offers Cherotich and Chepkoech another opportunity to replay one more plot, this time in a different setting.

Their combination with women's 3,000m steeplechase world record holder Beatrice Chepkoech is expected to be mouthwatering.

Kenya's Reynold Cheruiyot in action during the 1500m race at the World U20 Championships in Cali, Colombia on August 1, 2022. [World Athletics]

Reynold Kipkorir, 18, Men's 1,500m

The reigning World Under-20 1,500m champion joins the list of youngsters joining their seniors in the bruising hunt for medals.

Kipkorir has consistently vied for a place on the athletics high table.

In April, he brought home a gold medal from the 2023 African Under-20 Championships staged at Levy Mwanawasa Stadium in Zambia.

At the World Championships national trials in Nairobi earlier in July, he slowed down metres to the finish to allow his mentor, former world champion Timothy Cheruiyot to win. Kipkorir and Cheruiyot will be racing side by side in Budapest.

"Timothy Cheruiyot is my role model. He has always encouraged me to train hard. As my senior, he calls me regularly to check on my progress in training," Kipkorir said in a recent interview.

Kenya's Brenda Chebet leading pack of 800m race at the World Athletics U20 Championships at the Moi International Sports Complex. Aug 18, 2021. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

Brenda Chebet, 19 , women's 1,500m

She is a World Under-20 1,500m silver medallist and will be running alongside record assassin Faith Kipyegon in Budapest.

Chebet was in the Kenyan mixed relay team that won gold at the 2023 World Athletics cross country championships in Bathurst, Australia in February this year.

The Bathurst mixed relay team also had a youngster Emmanuel Wanyonyi, Mirriam Cherop, and Kyumbe Munguti.

In June last year, Chebet finished fourth in 1,500m at the African Championships held in Saint Pierre, Mauritius.

Chebet won the silver medal in the 1500m at the 2022 World Athletics Under-20 Championships in Cali, Colombia in August 2022.

In Budapest, Chebet will be running alongside record-breaker Faith Kipyegon.

She ran a personal best time of 4:04.64 behind Birke Haylom at the global showpiece.

Peninah Muthoni Mutisya, 19, women's 800m

Mutisya is the reigning African Under-20 800m champion who is yearning for an international championship medal. She proved that she was ready to run alongside big shots in a showpiece where big names go head-to-head for prestigious titles.

The Nyahururu-based athlete will be among Kenyan stars in Budapest, and the athletics powerhouse will be expecting her to team up with Commonwealth champion Mary Moraa for glory in the women's two-lap race.

Mutisya emerged second behind Moraa at the national Athletics championships at Nyayo Stadium and upgraded that to a win at the World Championships trials staged on the same venue on July 8.

Simon Kiprop (Left) overtakes Amos Serem in the 3000m SC men final during the Athletics Kenya Trials World U20 Championship at Moi Intetnational Sports Centre Kasarani in Nairobi, Kenya on July 03, 2021. [Stafford Ondego, Standard]

Simon Kiprop Koech, 20, Men's 3,000m steeplechase

He is transitioning to the senior ranks with an assignment that will likely propel him to the annals of athletics history. Koech won a bronze medal at the 2021 World Under-20 Championships in the 3000m Steeplechase behind compatriot Amos Serem who clinched the title.

In May 2023, he surprised five-time champion Benjamin Kigen to win the 3,000m steeplechase at the Kenyan Defence Forces Championship.

In July 2023, Koech superbly secured a 3000m Steeplechase victory at the national trials, running 8:22.55 aged, to finish ahead of Abraham Kibiwott and Leonard Bett.

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