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Are Kenyans losing battle in long distance running? Athletics Local athletes find it hard to reclaim men 5,000m and 10,000m titles at global championships

Last updated 2 years ago | By JONATHAN KOMEN AND DENNIS OKEYO

Britain's Mo Farah, center, on his way to winning the gold medal in the Men's 10,000m final during the World Athletics Championships in London, Friday, Aug. 4, 2017. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Former athletes and coaches say more needs to be done if Kenya are to remain dominant in most races once again.

Kenyan men surrendered three titles while women could not retain two crowns at the just concluded IAAF World Athletics Championships in London.

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Questions still linger on whether Kenya can reclaim the 5,000m and 10,000m after a relatively poor show over the distances in London.

The performance in London were at par to the 2013 Moscow worlds. Kenyans are known to perform well in Asia than in Europe or America.

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In 1988, the country posted a good show at the Seoul Olympic Games with John Ngugi winning gold in 5,000m. The Beijing Olympics (2008), Beijing worlds (2015) and Rio Olympics saw Kenya give an impressive show over the various events.

But Moses Tanui, the 1991 world 10,000m champion, differs with the trend.

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“There is nothing like good results in Asia. The results in 5,000m and 10,000m men in London were disastrous. The problem lies with the coaches.

“There was need for proper preparations, selections and a smart winning strategy. We just allow our athletes to do pace setting. Look at how Paul Chelimo (USA) and Joshua Cheptegei (Uganda) made brilliant moves in 5,000m and 10,000m and made away with medals. We need to review our coaching skills,” said Tanui.

Athletes prefer road races

However, disaster has been lurking in men’s 5,000m and 10,000m races for long and track coaches are now scratching their heads.

Bernard Ouma, the middle distance coach, said: “Running requires periodic long-term planning and a perfect programme tailored to boost endurance. This includes a balancing act between transitions and competition timing. For instance, if an athlete starts his preparation late, it’s mostly likely that his form will pick up late and he will hit top form after the competition,” he said.

“The best 5,000m runners are those who transited from 1,500m event. Asbel Kiprop and Timothy Cheruiyot can emerge as the best 5,000m runners for Kenya, watch out. Asbel just needs to start Commonwealth preparation early and I can assure he will be the man to beat in Gold Coast, Australia, next April,” Ouma said.

Douglas Wakiihuri, the first Kenyan to win London Marathon in 1987, said athletes in 5,000m and 10,000m opt to line up for road races, which pays handsomely.

“The emergence of many road races and lack of competition in 10,000m has made Kenyans to prefer road races to the track. There is the element of huge money in road races in big city races.

“There is need for Kenyans to graduate from track at the right age. You get athletes aged 22 competing in road races abroad. So, there is need for steady transition,” he said.

Hellen Obiri became the second Kenyan woman to win gold in 5,000m after Vivian Cheruiyot’s exploits in Berlin (2009) and Daegu (2011).

It remains a riddle as to when men will reclaim the 10,000m title that Charles Kimathi won in Edmonton, Canada, in 2001.

Kenya has three gold medals in Paul Kipkoech (1987), Moses Tanui (1991) and Charles Kamathi (2001) while Ethiopia lead with nine medals from Haile Gebreselassie (1993, 1995, 1997 and 1999), Kenenisa Bekele (2003, 2005, 2007 and 2009) and Ibrahim Jeilan in 2011. Britain boasts three titles from Mo Farah’s wins in 2013, 2015 and 2017.

However the bad show by the men in track distance running 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.

But London also witnessed Kenyans failing to retain the titles that they won in Beijing in 2015.

The men’s squad lost the 800m (David Rudisha), javelin (Julius Yego) and 400m hurdles (Nicholas Bett) titles even as Geoffrey Kirui reclaimed the marathon title last won by Abel Kirui in 2011 in Daegu. Elijah Manangoi retained the 1,500m title won by Asbel Kiprop in 2015 and Conseslus Kipruto changed the pecking order in 3,000m steeplechase, chalking up victory as Ezekiel Kemboi had won in 2015.

It was a tall order for Haron Koech, who had trained his sights on retaining his younger brother’s, Nicholas Bett’s, 400m hurdles crown. He bowed out in the semi-finals.

Bett, Olympic 400m silver medalist Boniface Mucheru and Eric Keter, who finished seventh in the 1991 World Championships in Tokyo to set the then national record of 48.70 seconds, stand out among Kenya’s high achieving hurdlers.

Keter also finished fifth at the 1993 World Championships in Stuttgart, Germany to slap a new national mark of 48.28 seconds and won the 1991 All Africa Games title.

Kipyegon Bett, who has 1:43.76 best personal in the two-lap race, could not retain David Rudisha’s title and settled for bronze. Emmanuel Korir, who has a world leading time of 1:43.10 set in Monaco Diamond League, carried the nations’ hopes after winning at the national trials and, more importantly, had not lost any race up to the semi-final in London.

He reportedly picked up a hip injury while in London.

Michael Saruni, who boasts 1:44.61 in the two-lap race but was dropped from London squad on questionable grounds to accommodate Rudisha and Ferguson Rotich despite finishing third in trials, stands as another prodigy to succeed Rudisha.

The women’s 800m title has remained a pipe dream for Kenyans since the entry of South Africa’s Caster Semenya on the global scene in 2009, where she overshadowed 2008 Olympic champion Pamela Jelimo and 2007 world champion Janeth Jepkosgei.

The entry of Burundi’s Francine Niyonsaba into the battle has also complicated Kenya’s quest to reclaim lost grip.

Interestingly, some well-built and muscular women seem to have been dominant in 800m in the global scene since 1983 when Jarmila Kratochvilova of Czech Republic set the current world record of 1:53.28.

Margaret Nyairera, Kenya’s sole hope in London, finished fourth behind Semenya, Niyonsaba and America’s Ajee Wilson.

Manangoi became the second Kenyan to win 1,500m crown after Asbel Kiprop’s three wins in Daegu, Moscow and Beijing.

If their performances in the Diamond League meetings where Manangoi, Timothy Cheruiyot and Ronald Kwemoi top world rankings are anything to by, then Kenya would still continue to hold a firm grip on the race.

But Faith Chepng’etich, the Olympic champion, warmed fans’ hearts as she became the first Kenyan to win 1,500m crown in the IAAF World Athletics Championships history.

Winny Chebet, who has six silver medals in 800m before graduating to 1,500m this season, would emerge as Chepng’etich’s rightful team mate.

There is, however, a steady invasion into Kenya’s track speciality, the men’s 3,000m steeplechase.

Kenya has recorded three podium sweeps – 1997, 2007 and 2015 – as well as striking the 11th gold medal in the history of the World Athletics Championships.

London provided a perfect indicator that Kenya’s performance in the race is waning.

Frenchman Mahiedine Mekhisi-Benabbad and America’s Evan Jager have always spoiled the Kenyan party.

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