Year-ender: Kenya dropped to runner-up spot in worlds
The 2017 athletics season elicited exciting fairy tales that would be fit for an Oscar Award.
They staged a commendable 2017 athletics season at the 16th IAAF World Athletics Championships at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in East London, which, at best, stands out as one of the best seasons in 54 years of independence.
Kenya won 11 medals –five gold, four silver and two bronze –to finish second behind USA at the championships, which stands out among the best performances.
The good show set adrenaline pulse-racing even as Kenya –the world’s athletics superpower –sets her sights on the 21st Commonwealth Games that run in Gold Coast, Australia, on April 5-17.
From the 42nd IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Kampala, World Under-18 Championships in Nairobi, World Athletics Championships in London, to big city marathons and the 14-leg IAAF Diamond League meetings; the Kenyan stars were absolutely stunning at the finish line.
The national team topped the medal standings as women emerged the first team to win the top six spots in the history of the IAAF World Cross Country Championships – but the team failed to attain the 2010 feat in Poland when Kenya won all individual titles.
Hellen Obiri and Eliud Kipchoge alongside Elijah Manangoi, the bane of rivals Ethiopia, stood out this season. Manangoi and Obiri were crowned Athletics Kenya male and female Athletes of the Year.
After finishing second during 2015 Beijing World Championships, Manangoi emerged as one of the most consistent athletes this year as he won seven out of 13 races he competed in.
Early this year at the Monaco Diamond League meeting, Manangoi, 24, set the fastest time in 1500m, crossing the line in 3:28.80.
Manangoi beat strong opponents, including world marathon champion Geoffrey Kirui and 3000m Steeplechase Champion Conseslus Kipruto, to the coveted title.
Obiri, 28, lived up to expectations this season as she shattered the six-year-old 5,000m national record, shaving off two minutes at the Rome Diamond League in June with a new time of 4:18.37.
She won the world 5,000m title in London with a dominant kick to silent her Ethiopian rival Almaz Ayana before bagging Diamond League Trophy in Brussels.
Kipchoge set the unratifiable 2:00.25 in the Nike Breaking-2 Project in Autodromo Nazionale Monza, Italy, in May, which was two minutes and 32 seconds faster than the official world record mark of 2:02.57 held by Kenya’s Dennis Kimetto. He won Berlin Marathon and has now won nine of the ten marathons he has competed in.
Kenya finished fourth with 15 medals –four gold, seven silver and four bronze –at the IAAF World Under-18 Championships in Nairobi.
The Kenyan team bagged four gold, seven silver and four bronze, coming fourth behind South Africa, China and Cuba which took first, second and third positions respectively.
Leonard Bett won 2,000m steeplechase title while George Manangoi carried 1,500m crown. Dominic Ndigiti claimed the country’s first medal at the event, a bronze medal in 10,000m walk as Caren Chebet won the 2,000m steeplechase championship title.
Kenya’s six-decade dominance in 3,000m steeplechase remained under threat at the London Worlds.
The men’s 3,000 steeplechase –often billed as ‘Made in Kenya for Kenyans’ –has been on a sliding trend despite basking in three podium sweeps at worlds from 1997, 2007 and 2015 when Ezekiel Kemboi orchestrated the historic 1-2-3-4 sweep.
The rain started beating Kenyans when Qatari’s Saif Saaeed Shaheen, formerly Stephen Cherono, struck gold in Helsinki, Finland, in 2005 –becoming the first non-Kenyan to win the race.
Kenya has won every edition of the championships since 1987 part from Shaheen’s victory for Qatar in 2003 and 2005.
French man Mahiedine Mekhisi-Benabbad emerged from obscurity to snatch silver medals in 2008 and 2012 Olympics.
He kept on ruining Kenyan podium sweeps in 2011 and 2013 world championships as well as Rio Olympics, settling for bronze medals.
Then the nightmare on America’s Olympic silver medallist Evan Jager, whose victory in the IAAF Diamond League in Monaco in 8:01.29 is the fastest time this season complicated the Kenyan equation as he settled for bronze in London. USA also dominated the women’s 3,000m steeplechase charts.
A huge challenge lurks in men’s 5,000m, where Kenya has performed below the radar in the last 12 years. The 2016 Rio Olympics exhibited the worst performance since 1960 where no Kenyan sailed to the finals.
Kenya has not won men’s 10,000m gold since 2001. Ethiopia and Britain’s Mo Farah have always ruled the roost and it remains to be seen if Kenya can reverse the trend come 2019 worlds in Doha, Qatar.
Former Kenyans Rose Chelimo (Bahrain) and Paul Chelimo (USA) won medals for their adopted nations.
Kenyan men surrendered three titles while women could not retain two crowns at the just-concluded IAAF World Athletics Championships in London.
That did not water down Kenya’s superlative show as women ventured into virgin grounds in 1,500m –winning first gold medal since IAAF introduced the race in Gothenburg, Sweden, in 1995.
A lot await in store as Kenyans train their sights on the upcoming 21st Commonwealth Games set for Gold Coast, Australia, in April next year and later the 21st Africa Senior Athletics Championships in July.