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Team Kenya’s work cut out ahead of Tokyo Games

ATHLETICS By Jonathan Komen | June 21st 2021
Kenya national relay team that qualified for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games during trials Moi International Sports Stadium, Kasarani, on Saturday. [Jonah Onyango, The Standard]

History, threat and reprieve clearly define Kenya’s medal prospects at the Olympic Games that run in Tokyo, Japan, on July 23-August 8.

Kenyan women hope to make history in 10,000m and 3,000m steeplechase, where the nation has not won gold medals at the Olympic Games since her debut in 1960 in Rome, Italy.

And the six women selected –3,000m steeplechase and 10,000m – have a mountain to climb as they venture into the virgin grounds.

Olympic 5000m silver medallist Hellen Obiri, 2017 world cross country champion Irene Jebet Cheptai and Sheila Chelang’at will marshal forces in 10,000m.

World 3,000m steeplechase record holder Beatrice Chepkoech, Olympic 3,000m steeplechase silver medallist Hyvin Kiyeng and 2014 Commonwealth Games 3,000m steeplechase champion Purity Cherotich Kirui lead the chase for Kenya’s first Olympic women’s gold medal in the water and barriers race.

On the other hand, Olympic champions Faith Chepng’etich (1500m) and Eliud Kipchoge (marathon) hope to emerge as Kenya’s first two-time Olympic champions in their races.

What with the men’s 10,000m bid to recapture the title last won by the late Naftali Temu at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City.

Three-time world half marathon winner Geoffrey Kamworor, Commonwealth Games 10,000m bronze medallist Rodgers Kwemoi and road racer Weldon Kirui will anchor the Kenyan onslaught in what most athletics enthusiasts including former Prime Minister Raila Odinga remain optimistic about.

Raila, who was the chief guest at the national trials in Kasarani Stadium on Saturday, said: “You (athletes) are following in the footsteps of our great athletes. We look forward to seeing Kamworor do what Naftali Temu did 53 years ago in Mexico.”

But the men’s 3,000m steeplechase dominance for 53 years – between 1968 and 2016 Olympic outings – is under threat. There has been a steady invasion from Americans, French and the Ethiopians in the race.

At the 2019 World Championships, Olympic champion Conseslus Kipruto won by the thickness of his vest against Lamecha Girma.

It now remains to be seen if the three athletes selected will respond when called upon in Tokyo next month.

World Under-20 silver medallist Leonard Bett, Commonwealth Games silver medallist Abraham Kibiwott and Africa champion Benjamin Kigen must be at their best to protect Kenyan turf. Kibiwott said: “There is no cause for alarm. We will deliver it.”

10000m Women race during the national trials for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games at The Moi International Sports Stadium, Kasarani, June 19, 2021. [Jonah Onyango, The Standard]

But it was relief for US-based Michael Saruni and Daniel Simiu when they qualified for Tokyo Olympics.

Saruni, who won the 800m battle, was dropped from 2017 squad to World Championships in London despite having qualified.

He said: “I had to ensure that I finish as number one in the trials. This is Kenya for you.”

Simiu, who finished second in 5,000m, was also dropped from 2019 World Championships team under unclear circumstances and had to atone for the misfortune this time round.

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