What 2022 holds for title-hungry Kenyan athletes

Faith Kipyegon of Kenya celebrates with her national flag after winning gold. [Reuters]

Welcome to another season that’s spiced up with a rich athletics menu.

From Alexander Stadium in Birmingham to Hayward Field inside University of Oregon in Eugene, USA; great action awaits athletics enthusiasts this year.

The 2022 Commonwealth Games athletics showpiece will be held at Alexander Stadium on July 28-August 8, while Hayward Field hosts the World Athletics Championships on July 15- July 24.

Interestingly, the two stadiums share a cocktail of sporting history.

The Hayward Field, which hosts the Prefontaine Classic meet, the World Athletics Diamond League series, has always attracted classy line ups. It was started in 1973 and later became Bowerman Classic to honour long time University of Oregon track coach Bill Bowerman and that explains why the competition is referred to as Bowerman Mile race.

Alexander Stadium in Birmingham, which hosts Britain’s Diamond League meeting, is home of Birchfield Harriers that replaced Alexander Sports Ground.

Back home, Eldoret will host the World Athletics cross country Tour inside Lobo Resort on February 16 –the African leg of the World Athletics cross country Tours.

Lobo Resort, located along Eldoret-Kapsabet Road, is owned by three-time Boston Marathon winner Ibrahim Hussein.

Organisers will test the course during Athletics Kenya Central Rift region cross country championships on Saturday next week.

But bigwigs in world marathon record holder Eliud Kipchoge, two-time Olympic 1,500m champion Faith Chepng’etich Kipyegon, Olympic 1,500m silver Timothy Cheruiyot and Olympic marathon champion Peres Jepchirchir will be out to extend dominance in their races this season.

Kipchoge must be at his best to stop the sudden surge of marathon youngsters who emerged from obscurity and stole the limelight last year.

Elisha Rotich produced a strong performance to win the first title at the 2021 Paris Marathon in what left tongues wagging on his surprising performance.

Rotich, who was a caretaker for his brother’s real estate in Eldoret before he picked up athletics, produced an impressive display of talent to win in a brilliant 2:04.23, which was 40 seconds faster than Ethiopia’s Kenenisa Bekele’s previous course record.

Rotich not only improved his personal best by 55 seconds but also set the eighth fastest time of the year.

Another star to challenge the global marathon big shots is Titus Ekiru. He ran the fastest ever marathon in Italy after clocking 2:02.57 as he successfully defended his Milan Marathon title in a course record. This is the fifth fastest marathon of all time.

Ekiru, the African Half Marathon champion, reduced almost two minutes off his time when he won the race for the first time in 2019, clocking 2:04.46.

Boston and Chicago Marathon winner Lawrence Cherono and two-time London Marathon champion Vincent Kipchumba would also fashion a new order in 42km contests this year.

Cherono, fourth at the Tokyo Olympics, rose from operating a posho mill in Eldoret to global fame.

Jepchirchir, twice the world half marathon winner and world 21km record holder for women-only race, carries her Olympic marathon title into the new season against arch-rival Brigid Kosgei, the Olympic silver medallist.

She became just the second Kenyan woman to win Olympic marathon title since the event was added to The Games in 1984 in Los Angeles. She later became the first Olympic champion to win New York Marathon. It now remains a riddle if she would stretch her dominance at the World Marathon Majors series this year.

Questions abound on whether two-time world marathon champion Edna Kiplagat –if named in the national team –would gun for a third title at the World Championships in Oregon, USA.

Edna, who finished second at the Boston Marathon last year, stands out among the most consistent athletes in Kenya. She made the national team to World Junior Athletics Championships in 1996 while a Standard Seven Pupil at Kapkoi Primary School in Elgeyo Marakwet.

Kenyans too have a mountain to climb this season in their bid to reclaim six world records held by Uganda’s Jacob Kiplimo and Joshua Cheptegei. Apart from Kipchoge’s world 42km record, Ugandans hold other men’s track and road running records. Cheptegei has 5,000m, 10,000m, 5km and 10km while Kiplimo basks in 15km and 21km world records.

Kipyegon, who was named best athlete alongside Timothy Cheruiyot at the Diamond League series, will defend her Commonwealth Games crown as she seeks to recapture the world title from Dutchwoman Sifan Hassan. She topped global 1500m charts last year ahead of Hassan and Britain’s Laura Muir.

Cheruiyot, who won Olympic silver at the Tokyo Olympics, faces a huge hurdle in 1500m.

Apart from Norway’s Olympic 1500m champion Jakob Ingebrigtsen, Cheruiyot will battle three-time world champion Asbel Kiprop and 2017 world champion Elijah Manangoi, both will be back after serving doping bans. Manangoi finished his ban on December 20 while Asbel will finish his ban on February 2.

Kenya’s men’s 3000m steeplechase squad at the World Championships faces a redemption test as they strive to reclaim their turf, which they lost last year at the Tokyo Olympics after 53 years dominance.

Olympic bronze medallist Benjamin Kigen and Commonwealth Games silver medallist Abraham Kibiwott must be at the best to stop Soufiane El Bakkali of Morroco and Ethiopia’s Lamecha Girma.

Girma almost beat Conseslus Kipruto in 2019 Doha Worlds before Bakkali ran away with the crown at the Tokyo Olympics.

A fierce battle awaits in men’s and women’s 5,000m and 10,000m races. In women’s contest, world 5,000m champion Hellen Obiri seeks to defend her title while they fight to reclaim the 10,000m crown Vivian Cheruiyot won in Beijing, China, in 2015.

Charles Kamathi, an Inspector of Police based in Embu, won the last men’s 10,000m gold medal at the World Championships in Edmonton, Canada, in 2001 while Benjamin Limo won men’s 5,000m title at the World Championships in Helsinki, Finland, in 2005.

And the 2022 season will no doubt emerge as battle for redemption in Kenyan athletics!

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