Kenyans ready to ship home the bullion from North Africa
The national team at the 12th African Games that is under way in Morocco – Casablanca and Rabat – has a mountain to climb as they strive to improve their pecking order in the continental stage.
Kenya has sent 290 athletes, who are seeking to overhaul the 2015 mark in Brazzaville, Congo, where they scooped 43 medals, with seven gold, 19 silver and 17 bronze to finish sixth in the standings. And a lot is expected from the 22 disciplines that include athletics, archery and badminton.
Athletics, which has 75 participants, have always won medals. The track and field squad comprises a mix of experienced and budding athletes.
Olympic 3,000m steeplechase champion Conseslus Kipruto, Olympic 10,000m bronze medalist Paul Tanui and world 3,000m steeplechase record holder Beatrice Chepkoech headline the team.
Tanui will marshal forces with Edwin Soi, the 2008 Olympic 5000m bronze medalist and Charles Yosei Muneria.
Chepkoech will partner with Olympic silver medalist Hyvin Kiyeng and Mercy Wanjiru in the water and barriers race while Kipruto leads Joash Kiplimo and Benjamin Kigen, who has impressed in the Diamond League circuit this season, in the men’s race.
World Under-20 and Africa 5,000m champion Edward Zakayo and 2017 world cross country under-20 bronze medallist Richard Kimunyan will fly the national flag in 5000m as Lilian Kasait and Lydia Jeruto, the world under-18 800m silver medallist lead women’s onslaught.
World under-20 1,500m champion George Manangoi, the younger brother of world 1,500m champion Elijah Manangoi, will partner with Boaz Kiprugut and Charles Somotwo while Mary Kuria, Loice chemining and Quailyne Kiprop line up in the women’s showdown.
Two-time African high jump champion Mathew Sawe is another medal favourite, having posted a brilliant 2.30 metres personal best.
Other medal prospects include veteran walk racer Grace Wanjiru and her partner Emily Ngii as well as men’s duo in Samuel Gathimba and Simon Wachira.
Kenyan swimmers are expected to stage good shows in the pool. Africa Youth champion Maria Brunlehner stands out as a star attraction in the team. Brunlehner, 19, a student at Sportschule Potsdam in Germany, lines up in 50m and 100m freestyle and breaststroke, and 200m individual medley. She was a member of the team to the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia, last year.
The swimmers include Samuel Ndonga, a 21-year-old university student at Northampton, United Kingdom. Ndonga competes in 50m and 100m breaststroke events. He won six gold medals during the CANA Zone IV in Zimbabwe.
The team also includes Emily Muteti, 19, who will be out to achieve an ‘A’ qualifying time in women’s 100m butterfly for the 202 Olympic Games and has represented the country since she was 14.
UK-based Issa Mohammed is another swimmer to watch out for. The 24-year-old is a post-graduate student at the University of Plymouth in the UK who swims in 50m and 100m butterfly and freestyle events. Issa has represented Kenya four times at the World Championship, twice at the Commonwealth Games and has been a finalist in the African Games in 2015.
Maahir Harunani, 19, is a student at the Jeffery College in Mombasa and competes in 200m butterfly, 100m butterfly and 200m individual medley events.
The team also boasts of Imara-Bella Thorpe, who will compete in 50m and 200m. She also won gold, silver and bronze at CANA championships in Harare.
Rebecca Kamau was the first Kenya to reach the semi finals at the World Championships and will be lining up in 50m, 100m and 200 breastsroke and 200m individual medley specialist.
Ridhwan Abubakar, 19, a University of Plymouth student will compete in the 50m, 100m butterfly and 100m freestyle. He has represented Kenya at the FINA World championships 2016 Canada, FINA World championships 2018 China, Africa Youth Games 2018 Algeria and Summer World University Games 2019.
Swalleh Abubakar, 19, will contest in the 50m, 100m backstroke and freestyle categories. The 25-year-old Sylvia Atieno Brunlehner, the elder sister of Maria will compete in 50m, 100m backstroke and 50m freestyle events.
Meanwhile, Chess Kenya Secretary General John Mukabi says the national team stands a high chance of winning its first ever medals at the African Games.
Mukabi, who represented the country in the 2011 games, says the decision to play blitz and rapid instead of the normal classical category has increased Kenya’s chances significantly.
“Initially, we were not sure if chess will be included but when it happened, organisers opted for rapid and blitz. As a result, we don’t have many countries taking part.
“This gives our team a very high chance of winning our first medals at the games. The ladies especially have a chance of winning medals,” he said.
Apart from the mode of playing being changed, organisers for this year’s games have also whittled down teams to just four, comprising two men and two women.
Initial squad had 10 players -- five men and five women in Joyce Nyaruai, Sasha Mwongeli, Ricky Sang and Mehul Gohil.
Kenya Table Tennis Association (KTTA) hope to have a better outing after inclusion of a good number of junior players.
The association has been focusing a lot on promoting junior players. Brian Mutua is a medal hopeful after being awarded a wild card.
Others are top juniors in Pamela Glory and Zaki Pema. Josiah Wandera is in the team after claiming top spot in the men’s trials without dropping a set. Wandera came into the trials as the top seed.
In handball, the men’s team will miss the tournament for the first since 2007 when the tournament was held in Algeria.
This is after the African Handball Confederation (CAHB) cancelled the zone five qualifiers and handed Egypt the only slot reserved for the zone.
But the Kenyan women remain strong contenders for a medal in the games, having won the zone five qualifiers held in Uganda.
Kenya thrashed Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, South Sudan, Sudan, Djibouti, Ethiopia and Egypt in the qualifiers to pick the sole ticket to Morocco and will be virtually unchallenged when the games start in Rabat.
Kenya is in group ‘B’ together with Cameroon, Senegal and neighbours Uganda. The games will not be qualifiers for the 2020 Olympic games as a separate tournament will be held in January where the top 12 top teams will earn tickets.
Other disciplines where Kenya hopes to do well include in badminton despite being rocked by selection wrangles and lawn tennis.
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