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Tokyo Olympic Games: Kenyan export athletes come back to haunt compatriots

ATHLETICS By Stephen Rutto | July 16th 2021
(LtoR) USA's Hillary Bor, Kenya's Ezekiel Kemboi and Canada's Matthew Hughes compete in the Men's 3000m Steeplechase Round 1 during the athletics event at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium in Rio de Janeiro on August 15, 2016.  AFP PHOTO

When the Tokyo Olympic Games showdown begins next week, Kenyan athletics exports representing foreign countries will be challenging big shots from their motherland for titles.

A number of the Kenyan-born foreign athletes will perhaps be whispering in local dialects, or Kiswahili with those from their birthplace, but will be flying different flags while donning different kits when they converge at the start lines in Tokyo.

After switching citizenship, USA’s Paul Chelimo (5000m), steeplechaser Bernard Keter and marathoner Sally Kipyego will be taking on Kenyans in the global show. Others are Israel’s Lonah Chemtai Salpeter, Eunice Chumba of Bahrain and Kaan Kigen Ozbilen of Turkey.

Kenya's Brigid Kosgei crosses the line to win the London Marathon in London, England, Sunday, Oct. 4, 2020. AP

In 5000m, Chelimo, an Olympic silver medallist in the distance, will be battling it out for the medals against a Kenyan contingent of Nicholas Kimeli, Daniel Simiu and Samuel Chebole.

The Kenyan trio, as well as Chelimo of the US, sensationally clinched their Olympic tickets last month at the national trials at Kasarani Stadium and Hayward Field respectively.

Just like Chelimo, the US will be banking on Kenyan exports, Hillary Bor and Bernard Keter in its mission to challenge the Kenyan dominance in the 3000m steeplechase.

“I have been named in Team US, and my training in Kenya has been excellent. I am looking forward to a good run and win the 5000m gold medal in Tokyo,” Chelimo said after booking a place to represent his foster country.

Bor, who is among three Americans to run under 8:10 at the Olympic Games and his US compatriot Keter (of US Army), will be brushing elbows with former African junior champion Abraham Kibwott, Leonard Bett and former Prefontaine Classic winner Benjamin Kigen of Kenya.

In 2007, Bor won a scholarship from Iowa State University, where he finished fourth in steeplechase at the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Championships in 8:36.84, a feat that earned him an All-American status.

Bor attended Arnesen’s High School in Uasin Gishu, where he ran a 9:15 in the steeplechase. He also ran a 3:55 in 1500m while in high school.

Keter, on the other hand, went to the US on a scholarship and won numerous honours during his college days.

He ran 8:21.81 at the American Olympic trials at Hayward Field, Eugene, Oregon on June 25, coming in second to Bor and ahead of Mason Ferlic. In the marathon, Sally Kipyego who has been training in Eldoret and Iten, will be attempting to challenge the Kenyan team led by world record holder Brigid Kosgei, world champion Ruth Chepngetich and world half marathon champion Peres Chepchirchir.

Kipyego, who was born and raised in Marakwet West, secured a spot at the USA’s Olympic marathon trials in Atlanta, Georgia on February 29, 2020.

She was third in a time of 2:28:52 – a performance that earned her $55,000 (Sh5.9 million) from the US government to facilitate her training.

After making Bahrain proud in several races since 2014, Eunice Chumba, who was born in Nandi, qualified to represent Bahrain in Tokyo.

Chumba finished ninth at the grueling Eldoret City marathon on June 6. She spectacularly won the 2017 edition of Beirut Marathon in a course record of 2:28:43.

Chumba also clinched the Copenhagen Half Marathon in a record 1:06:11.

Lonah Chemtai Salpeter of Israel was born in West Pokot and will be trying to pose a strong challenge to Kenyan road racers.

In March 2020, Chemtai won the Tokyo marathon in a time of 2:17:45, setting a new course record in the women’s race.

She went to Israel in 2008, as a baby-sitter for Kenya’s Ambassador to Israel living in Herzliya.

Sally Kipyego reflects her failure complete in women's 10,000m during the National Trials Championship at Moi International Sports Centre Kasarani on July 31, 2015.PHOTO/DENNIS OKEYO

Chemtai met Israeli running coach Dan Salpeter in 2011, and the two fell in love, and married in 2014.

She was granted Israeli citizenship in March 2016, eight years after she began living in Israel, and qualified to represent the country at the 2016 Olympics.

Kaan Kigen Özbilen born Mike Kipruto Kigen, from Elgeyo Marakwet will be running for Turkey. He will be racing alongside the Kenyan squad of world record Eliud Kipchoge, Lawrence Cherono and Amos Kipruto.

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