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Gloomy future for Africa cross-country

By | February 25th 2012

By James Waindi

Has the Africa Cross Country Championships lost its glare even before getting off the blocks?

That seems to be the connotation with the cream of Kenyan elite athletes opting to skip the continental event in favour of lucrative offers in indoor races abroad.

During this year’s National Cross Country Championships at the Uhuru Gardens on February 18, there was a distinct loss of attention and pomp normally associated with the event.

Only a handful of elite athletes turned up, but again, not to compete but to watch from the sides as the novice and upcoming runners pounded the ground in search of tickets to the Africa event set for March 18 in Cape Town.

Among the big names that were expected at National Championships and failed to turn up include two times World champion Vivian Cheruiyot, former national cross country champion Linet Masai as well as his men counterpart Geoffrey Mutai, who is also the Boston and New York Marathon winner and Commonwealth gold medalist Richard Mateelong among others.

Dennis Kipruto, who won the AP Cross Country Championships, was also expected to light up the national event and be among the Kenyan team to the continental championships in Cape Town but he too opted to run at the Dubai half marathon.

But Athletics Kenya (AK) secretary general David Okeyo, seeks to down play the issue and said with time the continental race will became its own master and attract the best. But lack of financial incentives is a major hurdle that will have to be jumped if this target is to be achieved.

"Most of the elite runners have their own programme and right now most of them are focusing on the Olympic Games, so we cannot force them to feature in specific events.

"Cheruiyot failed to run at the National Championships and she said she wanted to run very few races as possible before Olympics and I think that is the same thought shared by the rest," said Okeyo.

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