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Kenyan athletes confident of glory at World School Cross Country Championship

 Kenyan athletes check the racecourse ahead of the second edition of the ISF World School Cross Country championship at Ngong' Racecourse. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

Over 400 athletes from 21 nations are set to battle it out at the 2024 World School Cross Country Championship at the Ngong Race Course, Nairobi today.

The runners will look for glory in the U12, U15 and U18 categories, in both boys’ and girls’ classes, at the event that will be graced by President William Ruto.

On paper, it seems all the visiting 20 nations will be up against hosts Kenya, known for its long-distance running prowess especially in Cross Country races, in all the categories being contested.

Kenya has the largest contingent of 61 participants who have already sent a war cry, warning their rivals that it won’t be easy for the visitors to strike gold in the country.

“I’m smelling victory, I’m confident to be a champion on Sunday. This is not a dream, it’s the reality that I’m feeling,” Kenyan runner Sheila Chepngeno, who will take part in the girls’ U18 category, stated.

“Team Kenya camp has been awesome to me, we have been fine tuned for the needed victory, we now have the mental strength to be champions,” the Narok-based runner underlined.

Apart from the high-level training the Kenyan athletes received at the residential camp in Nairobi, Chepngeno has developed an intense love for books. This is due to the friendly and flexible learning programmes that have been set up for them by the Ministry of Education.

“The schedule has ensured we don’t lag behind with our school work, we are now inspired both physically and academically,” she highlighted.

Esther Mwihaki from Nyandarua is equally hopeful of becoming the new girls’ U15 champion.

She attributes her meteoric rise in athletics to emotional, physical and social support she is receiving from former Kenyan long-distance runner Mary Ngugi at the Nala Track Club, Nyandarua.

Concerning her today’s race, Mwihaki who looks up to the women’s World Cross Country champion Beatrice Chebet as her role model stated: “I’m confident that the Sunday race is where I’m going to launch my athletics career globally. I want to win gold; I want to be a prolific athlete so I can help my struggling parents escape poverty.”

Calvin Wangeci from Nyeri is also another champion on the prowl. The youngster has promised to take the world of sports by storm at the event, promising to secure gold in the boys’ U18 category.

The Nyandarua-based runner has overcome numerous challenges in life which he believes have sharpened him for the gigantic task ahead. He now wants to go for the jugular as he battles for the elusive medal in the weekend meet.

“I’m promising nothing but pure gold, or if possible, a strong podium finish will just do fine for me,” said Wangeci.

“I feel really inspired and the time to be a champion is now.”

World U20 Championship aces Joyline Jerotich and Phanuel Kipkosgei are expected to lead the Kenyan team onslaught in today’s global showpiece.

Other countries expected to put up spirited fights against Kenya are Chile, Uganda, Qatar, China, England, Ireland, Morocco, Tanzania, Rwanda, Namibia, Mexico, Czech Republic, New Zealand, Nigeria, Croatia, Turkey and Luxembourg.

Race’s Local Organising Committee CEO Barnaba Korir has pledged that Kenya will stage a very memorable show that the local and international participants will remember for ages.

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