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Kirui, Kibiwott to renew rivalry at Kip Keino Classic

 Kenya's Amos Kirui on his way to winning the 3000m men's steeplechase during the 2023 Kip Keino Classic meet at Kasarani Stadium. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

The fifth edition of the Absa Kip Keino Classic, a World Athletics Continental Tour Gold, is set for Nyayo National Stadium this Saturday.

Former Youth Olympics silver medallist Amos Kirui will be all out to defend his title in a star-studded men’s 3000m steeplechase category.

The discipline has attracted a strong field of 14 athletes from three nations, with a chunk of the world beaters coming from perpetual rivals Ethiopia and Kenya. Only one contestant, Elphas Ndiwa, is from the neighbouring Uganda.

Kirui destroyed the fields in the category last season, beating his perennial challenger and double champion Abraham Kibiwott to the gong.

The former Africa Youth Games bronze medallist is hopeful that he is going to replicate the same feat this year that saw emerge champion at Kasarani stadium last year.

Kirui believes sealing his victory at the showpiece on Saturday will give him a great edge over his opponents, especially now that his eyes are on the Paris 2024 Olympics.

“Kenya has many able athletes, this has challenged me to work hard this year, my aim is to be a permanent fixture in the Team Kenya line up,” the former world U-20 champion underlined earlier in the season when he was commencing his training.

Despite facing a strong field in the race, Kirui is only wary of the marauding Kibiwott who has vowed to reclaim his gong from the current champion.

Kibiwott won the crown in the inaugural edition held in 2020, and he is hopeful that the same venue will play to his favor this year.

His second victory came in 2022 at Kasarani after he was relegated to silver a year earlier by the current world champion El Bakkali Soufiane of Morocco.

Bakkali’s absence in this year’s race is a great reprieve to both Kirui and Kibiwott who are both focused for the title.

“I missed last year’s victory by a whisker but I’m targeting another gold this season, I will try my best to reclaim the title, it will be so great for me if I win,” the Kenya Police ace stated.

Ahead of the Kip Keino Classic, Kibiwott has taken part in several championships this season to tighten his muscles among them the Kenya Police Cross Country Championships and the Sirikwa Classic.

Just like Kirui, Kibiwott is hopeful to punch a ticket to the Paris Olympics. His other mission is to be a trailblazer in this year’s Wanda Diamond League.

Since its inception in 2020, it is only Ethiopia and Morocco that have denied Kenya a clean sweep in the category at the Kip Keino Classic. Bakkali took gold in 2021 as Samuel Dugina of Ethiopia bagged silver in 2022.

Ethiopia has sent a strong squad this year to challenge for the 7.5 lap race and among the lieutenants on ground are Milkesa Fikadu who finished fifth at the African Games recently concluded in Accra, Ghana.

Other Ethiopian forces are Hailemaryam Amare, Finka Fikadu, Hirko Hailu and Feyisa Mengistu.

Apart from Kibiwott and Kirui, other Kenyan hopefuls in the category are Mathew Kosguei, Amos Serem, Benjamin Kigen, Lawrence Kemboi, Wilberfoce Kones and Kiplimo Nabei.

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