Hopes, dance and heartbreak for Kenya at World Championships

Mary Moraa of Kenya celebrates after the Women's 800m Final of the World Athletics Championships Budapest 2023 in Budapest, Hungary, Aug. 27, 2023. [Xinhua]

High hopes, celebrations, and a test of endurance characterised the 2023 Budapest World Championships that ended on Sunday night.

The glorious moments and roller-coasters at the magnificent National Athletics Centre adjacent to the famous Danube River are unforgettable.

There were however a number of disappointments and heartbreaks.

In some races, the squads struggled under high summer temperatures in Budapest in their bids to continue dominance. Despite the tough challenge from world-class casts, beautiful dancing – both in Budapest and at home defined podium finishes.

In other races, Kenyans faced their former countrymen and women flying the flags of foreign nations. The Kenyan cast had their work cut out; to bring glory through more medals.

And they won ten medals, the same number as the 2022 Eugene World Championships, even though Budapest had three gold medals while there were two in Eugene.

“Together with the Budapest Organising Committee, we have created a new standard for our outdoor World Championships going forward. It is the new blueprint. We have seen full stadiums which creates an electric atmosphere, we have had the highest-ever number of participating athletes, we have witnessed jaw-dropping and nail-biting performances, and we have had huge audiences as a result,” World Athletics President Sebastian Coe was quoted saying.

Coe added: “Innovation has been a driving force for these championships. They have had more innovation embedded in them than we have seen in the last decade. From a medal plaza where athletes are treated like rock stars, to the awarding of coaches’ medals, striking branding that can be seen across the city, and a clear sustainability vision. This is a World Championships city and a country with a long-term, ambitious vision for sport and a legacy that goes way beyond a nine-day competition.”

USA topped the medal charts with 29 medals – 12 gold, eight silver, and bronze. It was followed by Canada, Spain, and Jamaica. Kenya topped the African continent once again despite unmet expectations. Kenyan fans expected more medals.

The three gold medals from Budapest came from two Kenyan women – two from the world’s best athlete in the world this year, Faith Kipyegon and Kenya’s dancing queen Mary Moraa.

Faith Kipyegon of Kenya celebrates after the Women's 1500m final of the World Athletics Championships Budapest 2023 in Budapest, Hungary, Aug. 22, 2023. [Xinhua]

Kipyegon, a multiple world record holder, is bringing home a gold medal in 1500m and 5000m while Moraa ended the final day of the World Championships on a high with a top podium spot in 800m, her specialty.

There are not enough superlatives to describe Kenya’s golden women in Budapest.

From Kipyegon’s unmatched confidence to Moraa’s exhilarating dances, athletics fans savoured entertainment as athletes wrote history.

Hours before the women’s 800m, a video of Kipyegon, Moraa and a foreign athlete enjoying music astounded social media.

Kipyegon became the first woman in history to complete a 1500m and 5,000m double at the World Championships.

“It has been amazing for me; starting with the world records (1500m, 5000m, and the Mile) and now the double World Championship title. It has been historic here (in Budapest) for me. I didn't expect to win the 5000m but I eventually made history,” Kipyegon said.

The ecstasy was even more palpable for Moraa who upgraded her 2022 bronze medal to gold in Budapest.

Her dancing moves won the admiration of an expectant Kenya as well as global enthusiasts.

The Commonwealth champion is looking into ending the season in style before launching her preparation for the 2024 Paris Olympics.

At the well-judged women’s 800m final in Budapest, Moraa edged out USA’s Athing Mu in a blistering sprint in the last 60m of the contest.

“It is a big achievement for me and my family. It is also a big achievement for my boyfriend,” the history-maker said after the triumph.

She went ahead to say: “My mind was full of thoughts of who was going to win which medal in the 800m final. I won gold last year, and I am happy for the gold medal this year.

“It is one season at a time. After this season, I will start the preparation for the Olympic Games.”

On her signature dance at the finish line, Moraa commented: “Dancing is my style. When I finish the race, I must entertain the spectators in the stadium and beyond.”

In the women’s 3000m steeplechase, the Kenyan squad won silver and bronze through world record holder Beatrice Chepkoech and World Under-20 champion Faith Cherotich.

Mary Moraa of Kenya celebrates after the Women's 800m Final of the World Athletics Championships Budapest 2023 in Budapest, Hungary, Aug. 27, 2023. [Xinhua]

Chepkoech, Cherotich, and former World Under-20 champion Jackline Chepkoech lost the gold medal to Kenyan-born Bahraini athlete Winfred Mutile Yavi.

Yavi switched her allegiance to the oil-rich Asian nation at the age of 15, and became eligible to compete for her adopted country in August 2016.

She represented Bahrain at the 2017 World Championships aged 17 and finished eighth in the steeplechase final in a personal best time of 9:22.67. On Sunday night, she successfully defeated her country of birth in the battle for a gold medal in Budapest.

After a disappointing show in the women’s 10,000m, Daniel Simiu who is also a Commonwealth silver medallist in the distance saved Kenya blushes as he brought home the first medal – a silver.

Former World Under-20 champion, youngster Emmanuel Wanyonyi secured silver in a hotly contested 800m race.

The Janeth Jepkosgei-coached athlete was a gold medal favourite.

Canadian Marco Arop proved too strong for the 19-year-old Wanyonyi.

Kenya’s bronze medals came from Jacob Krop in the men’s 5000m, Abraham Kibiwott in the men’s 3000m steeplechase and Beatrice Chebet in the women’s 5000m.

Youngster Faith Cherotich challenged her seniors to bag bronze in the women’s 3000m steeplechase behind Chepkoech, the world record holder in the water and barrier race.

Kenya’s major disappointments came in the men’s 1500m, the marathon, and the women’s 10,000m.

The first day saw an Ethiopian clean podium sweep, with Irine Kimais finishing fourth in the 25-lap race.

In the men’s 1500m Kenya's hopes for a medal were dashed after the country’s finalists Reynold Kipkorir Cheruiyot and Abel Kipsang faced strong challenges from bigwigs such as gold winner Josh Kerr of Great Britain, 5000m champion Jakob Ingebrigtsen of Norway and his compatriot Narve Gilje Nordas.

Kipsang finished fourth and Cheruiyot, a youngster placed eighth in the race characterised by tactical approaches.

In the men’s 100m, Kenya’s only contender Ferdinand Omanyala reached the finals in the 2023 World Championships but could sprint to the podium.

“My body wasn't just firing from the semifinal as it did in the heats. We just have to go back and see what happened and see where to correct and see what to do best next time,” Omanyala said after the disappointing outing.

The country’s men’s 4x400m relay team of Kennedy Kimeu Muthoki,  Zablon Ekhal Ekwam, Kelvin Sane Tauta, Wyclife Kinyamal, failed to impress in the Heats, finishing seventh in their group.

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