Kenyan squad begins medal hunt in Budapest

Ferdinand Omanyala of Team Kenya competes during the Men's 100m Round 1 heats on day five of the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games.[Kelly Ayodi]

Finally, the time has come. After a long verbal debate, the planets in the athletics universe have aligned and the stars are set to collide in the most spectacular fashion imaginable.

Inside the National Athletics Centre in Budapest, Hungary, Saturday, East Africa's pedigree practitioners with the finest athletics shows on the planet -Kenya and Ethiopia -will begin an impossibly brilliant battle with each other under the enchanted gaze of thousands watching from far and wide.

The wait is over. The gods of athletics have spoken. The rich and poor, the young and old will be united by the powerful valves of athletics in the nine days of riveting action as the global track and field showpiece returns to central Europe after Berlin in Germany staged it in 2009.

A record 2,187 athletes from 202 countries and territories will battle for honour, victory and, of course, disappointments.

A blunder from the start on the track could make the difference between victory and loss -the difference of a lifetime.

Africa's fastest man Ferdinand Omanyala (9.84 season best) longs to break a virgin ground in sprints as he targets men's 100m title against Great Britain's Zharnel Hughes, who basks in an impressive 9.83 best mark this season and defending champion Fred Kerley (9.88) of USA.

Omanyala, the Commonwealth Games champion, was in tip top form as he won in 9.92 seconds at the Diamond League meeting in Monaco even after he defied a late challenge from fellow African Letsile Tebogo (9.93) to win the men's 100m and declared his intent to claim the world title in Budapest.

He became not only the first Kenyan to win 100m at the Diamond League meeting but also the first Kenyan to compete in the 15-leg series spread across Asia, USA, Europe and Africa. Wiseman Were will be longing to reclaim the 400m hurdles title the late Nicholas Bett won at the 2015 World Championships in Beijing, China.

Emmanuel Korir, world and Olympic 800m champion, longs to emulate world 800m record holder David Rudisha in the two-lap race.

Korir, a graduate from University of Texas at El Paso in USA, will marshal forces with season leader Emmanuel Wanyonyi (1:43.27), Alex Ng'eno (1:44.21) and Olympic bronze medallist Ferguson Rotich (1:44.71) against stiff challenges.

They include Canada's world bronze medallist Marco Arop (1:43.30), America's 2016 Olympic bronze medallist Clayton Murphy (1:44.75) and Algeria's Slimane Moula (1:43.38).

With Olympic and world titles safely tucked under his belt, Korir has a leg up in the battle to match Rudisha's shows in the two-lap race.

Commonwealth Games 800m champion Mary Moraa is expected to produce electrifying performances that would brighten every little colour and amplify every sweet sound inside the National Athletics Centre in Budapest. She will marshal forces with Peninah Mutisya and Vivian Chebet.

That perfectly complements with two-time Olympic 1500m champion Faith Chengetich Kipyegon's bid to make history as the first three-time world champion in 1500m and, at best, a double world champion. She will also line up in the 5000m.

Kipyegon, who set three world records -1500m, 5000m and the Mile within 49 days this season, will join forces with Nelly Chepchirchir, Brenda Chebet and Edina Jebitok against Dutchwoman Sifan Hassan, the reigning London Marathon winner.

In the men's front, Kenyans in Olympic silver medalist Timothy Cheruiyot, world indoor bronze medalist Abel Kipsang and world under 20 champion Reynold Kipkorir will slug it out with Norway's Olympic champion Jakob Ingebrigtsen.

Ingebrigtsen has been in top form since winning since bagging the Olympic title in Tokyo.

Kenya's bid to reclaim men's 3,000m steeplechase title calls for a collective eye-roll in Budapest. The nation has won 13 gold medals at the World Championships and lost it last year in Oregon.

It remains to be seen if Abraham Kibiwott, Leonard Bett and Simon Koech will respond when called upon in the Hungarian capital.

With a gold medal at the 2021 World U20 Championships in Nairobi and another at the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, Jackline Chepkoech is stepping up nicely into the senior ranks in the women's water and barriers race.

Interestingly, Kenyan women's 3,000m steeplechase squad in Budapest is dubbed 'The battle of Chepkoech's' -Jackline Chepkoech and world record holder Beatrice Chepkoech. Faith Cherotich is also in the mix.

Kenya will be longing to end men's 5,000m and 10,000m gold drought at this edition of the biennial contest.

World 5000m silver medallist Jacob Krop, Commonwealth Games 5000m silver medalist Nicholas Kimeli, fast-rising Cornelius Kemboi and world cross country under 20 champion Ismael Kirui will be out to reclaim the 5,000m title Benjamin Limo won in Helsinki, Finland, in 2005, when they chase glory.

Limo's title, which was the only gold medal at the showpiece, influenced the name he gave his only son, Helsinki Kigen Limo. The name Kigen means 'the long wait' in Kalenjin.

It now remains to be seen if the squad will respond to the 'long wait' when called upon in Budapest.

Kenyans have a mountain to climb against Ethiopians and Ugandans as well as Kenyan-born American and 2016 Olympic silver medalist Paul Chelimo (13:03.12) and Olympic champion Joshua Cheptegei (12.41.61) of Uganda.

The Kenyan team in Nicholas Kimeli, Bernard Kibet and Daniel Simiu must be at their best to stop Uganda's Olympic and world champion Joshua Cheptegei in the 10,000m.

For many years, Kenyans always signal each other in the final stages of races with the word 'Ngebe', which means 'let's break away' in Kalenjin. Unfortunately, there are quite a number of athletes across the globe who understand and speak this language.

Despite throwing 78.43m at the national trials on July 8, 2015 world javelin champion Julius Yego still harbors huge dreams in the Budapest gala.

In the men's marathon, Timothy Kiplagat stands third on the world list with the 2:03:50 he clocked as runner-up to Belgium's Bashir Abdi in Rotterdam in April. He will team up with Joshua Belet, runner-up at the Hamburg Marathon in April in 2:04:33 and Titus Kipruto, fourth at this year's Tokyo Marathon in 2:05:32, who set a PB of 2:04:54 as runner-up in Amsterdam last year.

Rosemary Wanjiru, who moved above Gidey to sixth on the world all-time list with a winning time of 2:16:28 in Tokyo in March, leads the women's onslaught.

The 28-year-old Wanjiru, fourth in the world 10,000m final in Doha in 2019, clocked one of the fastest marathon debuts in history, 2:18:00, as runner-up to Ethiopia's Tigist Assefa in Berlin last year.

The Ethiopian challenge will be strengthened by world 10km record-holder Yalemzerf Yehualaw, who ran 2:17:23 on her marathon debut last year then won in London later in 2022 before finishing fifth at this year's edition of the race. Wanjiru will marshal forces with 2014 world half marathon bronze medallist Selly Kaptich, who was third in Berlin in 2019 and Shyline Jepkorir, a winner in Enschede in April in 2:22:45.

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