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THE BATTLE FOR 5,000m GOLD ON: Women and men charges keen to topple Ethiopia in Rio

Hellen Obiri leads in the women's 5000m final during the National Olympics Trials on July 1,2016 at kipchoge Stadium, Eldoret.[PHOTO:DENNIS OKEYO/STANDARD]

It remains a riddle whether Kenyans can pull surprises in the 5,000m race at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, next month.

World 10,000m champion Vivian Cheruiyot and world 5,000m silver medallist Caleb Mwangangi will lead the 12-lap race charges against strong Ethiopian challengers and Britain’s double Olympic champion Mo Farah.

So far, Ethiopia tops the women’s medal standings from recent Olympic Games editions. Track stars Tirunesh Dibaba and Meseret Defar are basking in three medals apiece – Dibaba's bronze (2004 and 2012) and gold (2008), and Defar's gold (2004 and 2012) and bronze in 2008.

Ethiopia will line up world 5,000m champion Almaz Ayana, Senbere Teferi, Ababel Yeshaneh and Tirunesh Dibaba on reserve.

Kenya has only three women's 5,000m medals – silver from Pauline Konga (1996), Isabela Ochichi (2004) and Vivian Cheruiyot in 2012.

And expectations are high as Kenya gears up to change the pecking order.

Cheruiyot, who started athletics as a Standard Four pupil of Chemwabul Primary School in Keiyo South, said she was ready for the opposition.

“I hope to replay my performance in the 2011 World Championships in Daegu (where she won a 5,000m and 10,000m gold double). I am not going to Rio for Dibaba or Ayana but as a Kenyan,” she said.

Interestingly, Cheruiyot will team up with 2012 World Indoor champion Hellen Obiri; the duo have been out on maternity leave.

Commonwealth Games champion Mercy Cherono and Janeth Kisa, a late entrant of the Olympic squad, are also in the mix. Cheruiyot finished fourth in the 3,000m in Doha (8:31.86), her best time over the distance since 2009, before she won the 5,000m in 15:12.79 ahead of Cherono (15:12.85) and Kisa (12:19.48).

Obiri said: “I had not trained enough after being out for almost one year on maternity leave. I chose to switch to 5,000m from 1,500m and I'm now doing more long runs to shed some weight.”

It will not be a walk in the park for Kenyans taking on Ayana, who set a world lead of 8:23.11 to beat Cherono (8:26.36) in the 3,000m in Doha and then went on to set another world lead and meet record (14:16.31) in the 5,000m in Rabat. But Mwangangi, who finished 10th in the 5,000m in Eugene, has kept firing warning shots to the Ethiopians, the bane of Kenyan runners in long-distance running.

Mwangangi will marshal forces with 2013 world bronze medallist Isaiah Kiplang’at and take on Olympic bronze medallist Thomas Longosiwa against Mo Farah. 

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