They came, they saw, but vanished... where are they?

Mercy Cherono celebrates after winning a past event. [FILE]

They are well-known for tearing the rule books while spectacularly turning tables as they claim victories in top athletics competitions, but they have been missing in action.

Their absence at global championships where they oozed class, is conspicuous.

Their stylish racing on the tracks and roads and their amiable personalities make the athletics universe yearn for their return.

A number of Kenyan athletics wizards are leaving sweet memories as they take breaks. Their exploits are nonetheless evidenced by shiny trophies on wall cabinets.

Their dramatic cruises to heroic victories make them part of the history-making in athletics.

They have not announced their retirement from the sport as they battle several issues that have conspired to keep them off the track and roads.

Others are promising grand returns to competition, and are promising you, the athletics fan, impressive shows.

From injuries to illnesses and anti-doping rules, some athletics stars who have shattered and threatened world records have taken long, fretful breaks.

Athletics enthusiasts keep asking the question, where are they?

Kenya's Emily Chebet (C), Kenya's Joyce Chepkirui (R) and Kenya's Florence Kiplagat (L) compete in the final of the women's 10,000m athletics event at Hampden Park during the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland. [AFP]

For instance, Florence Kiplagat – a prolific road racer who broke the half marathon world record by a significant margin at the Barcelona Half Marathon in February 2014, running 1:05:12 hours to beat Mary Keitany's previous mark by 38 seconds, has been missing in action for years now.

Kiplagat won the 2016 Chicago Marathon but could not finish the race the following year (2017). She later took a long break.

She also claimed Berlin Marathon victory twice, in 2011 and 2013.

“I had no injury and I was not on maternity leave. I have been away for too long. The major challenge was a chest problem that affected me for a whole year. I am glad that I have recovered and ready for my return,” Kiplagat said after taking part in Moi Kapsowar Girls 21km race on Saturday.

She was in Kapsowar to test her body, she says, noting that she did not return to competition since the Covid-19 pandemic.

During the period she was out of competition, Kiplagat said, she had lost sports sponsorship and that she was ‘starting afresh.”

The legendary road racer is preparing to run the 2024 Bali Marathon in Indonesia in August.

“I don’t have any sponsors at the moment. When I run well, the sponsor will be there. I will also be running to market myself after being out for a long period. Marketing myself means returning to the competition."

“I want to start in Bali and then from next year, I want to be back in the World Marathon Majors,” Kiplagat told Standard Sports.

During the period she was not in the limit, Kiplagat said; “I have been lazing at home.”

Celliphine Chepteek Chespol, of Kenya, wins a heat in the women's 3000-meter steeplechase at the World Athletics Championships on Saturday, July 16, 2022, in Eugene, Ore. [AP]

At just 25 years, former World Under-20 3,000m steeplechase champion Celliphine Chespol has also not been in the limelight since the 2022 World Championships in Oregon, USA.

At the 2022 World Championships in Oregon, Chespol battled a knee injury during the 3000m steeplechase final, finishing 13th.

She faded behind the leading pack in a global race where Kenyan-born Kazakhstani athlete Norah Jeruto stormed to victory, winning gold for her country. Her fighting spirit wilted in that competition.

Chespol said in an interview that time that she felt pain after the heats and that the situation was worsened by lack of a physiotherapist to attend to her.

She pulled out of the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham due to the injury.

Chespol had made a return at the 2021 Kip Keino Classic in Nairobi, after another injury episode that kept her out of the national trials for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, which were staged that year (2021).

"It was tough to handle the fact that I wasn't able to compete at the national trials. I had an injury and was still recovering from it. I was not in the right shape for the Olympics. I am thankful to God for my recovery. It has been tough," said Chespol.

In 2018, she brought home the 3,000m steeplechase gold medal from World Under-20 championships in Tampere, Finland.

In 2017, Chespol recovered after temporarily losing a shoe to deliver the second fastest time in history (that time) while winning the 3,000m steeplechase at the Prefontaine Classic Diamond League.

Chespol, who was 18 then, clocked eight 8: 58.57 seconds despite being forced to re-adjust her right shoe on the final lap.

Beatrice Chepkoech was second, with former 3,000m steeplechase World Record holder Ruth Jebet of Bahrain coming third in that Diamond League race.

After four seasons of injury hindrances, the 2014 Commonwealth 5,000m champion Mercy Cherono made an attempted return to the sport in 2022.

Her infectious smile made athletics enthusiasts remain glued to their screens whenever she was racing in her 3,000m and 5,000m specialties.

The 33-year-old athlete’s return to competition was long-awaited given her stellar performances.

In December 2022, she chalked up victory at the Corrida Pedestre Internationale de Houilles 10km Road Race held in Houilles, France, in what observers described as Cherono's grand return from injury and a transition to the roads.

But she faded again with no shows in the 2023 and 2024 seasons.

She won the world junior 3,000m title two times (in 2008 and 2010).

At the 49th edition of French race, Cherono missed the course record of 30:32 set by Norah Jeruto in 2019 by 24 seconds, faced no stiff challenge as she ran solo for the entire race to cut the tape in a new personal best of 30:55.

Another prospective world beater, Gladys Musyoki, a long jumper-cum sprinter, who was among fast-rising stars, has not been on the big stage in recent years. She is 29.

Kiplagat, Chespol and Cherono are among hundreds of athletes who have not been missing in action recently.

And the list goes on and on...

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