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Huge potential: Decision to revitalise sprints is God-send for Kenyans

By -Omulo Okoth | April 28th 2014

By Omulo Okoth

Janeth Jepkosgei in action during the Safaricom relays trials at Nyayo National Stadium on Saturday.  [PHOTO: DENNIS OKEYO/STANDARD]

World athletics chiefs’ decision to revitalise sprints is God-send for Kenyans who were staring at a dearth of one of the disciplines they dominated two decades ago.

Sprints was a Kenyan favourite event before the explosion of distance running, in which they rode roughshod over the rest of the world until some countries said enough is enough.

To keep Kenyans and Ethiopians away from some distance races in Europe and USA, the local top finisher is paid ten times what the winner, who is likely to be a Kenyan or Ethiopian will get.

However, sprints remain some of the most colourful events in any Major Games. This is why the 100m final is still the signature event of the Olympic Games from the days of the disgraced Canadian Ben Johnson, Carl Lewis, Ato Boldon, Maurice Green, Tim Montgomery, Donovan Bailey, Frankie Fredericks to Usain Bolt, Dwain Chambers, Asafa Powel or Tyson gay.


Athletics Kenya (AK) and Safaricom organised a trials on Saturday for the first World Relays to be held in Nassau, Bahamas, next month.

The crowd was good, but what was billed to be a relays event apparently drifted to middle distance competition between some of the world’s top runners like world champions Eunice Sum, Asbel Kiprop, Silas Kiplagat, and Mercy Cherono.

Two decades ago, sprinters Kennedy Ondiek (RIP) and Joseph Gikonyo were the main attractions at the World Championships or Olympic Games trials.

They provided real competition and fans would descend on Kasarani wondering who between the two would win. Among the women, it was Joyce Odhiambo, Isabella Mushila, Jane Nyamogo or Hellen Chemtai.


Because none stands out today at a top sprinter, a sprinter of international class, the competition at Nyayo Stadium on Saturday somehow became a middle distance relay event rather than the sprint relays it was intended to be.

However, it was not short of some fine moments. Janeth Jepkosgei’s bobbing pony tail reminded me of the fresh athlete from Singore 15 years ago who emerged from the Bro Colm O’Connell and Paul Ereng’s stable who would only conquer the world seven years later. Age is caching up with Janeth, but Sum is a good student who glided to victory. Cherono, a typical 5,000m athlete winning the 1,500m race sent a mixed signal, but Nicodemus Oyori, a veteran sprint talent scout reminded me that Cherono could only win because Hellen Obiri and Jebet Lagat missed the big occasion.

Observers said if held regularly, and AK invests resources — human and financial, complete with training camps in lower altitude areas like Kisumu, Oyugis and Mumias (Mombasa is too humid for sprinters) — Kenya could reclaim its slot among the global sprint powerhouses. This is the home of Robert Ouko, Charles Asati, Daniel Rudisha, Naftali Bon, among others.

Kenyans have held the world records in the 4x800m relay and it came as little surprise when the women set one at Nyayo on Saturday.

Observers said this is an area with huge potential for Kenyan men and women athletes.

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1X1800m men

Alfred Keter, Job Kinyor, Ferguson Rotich, Sammy Kirongo and Nicholas Kiplagat


Asbel Kiprop, Silas Kiplagat, Collins Cheboi, Joseph Magut, Hillary

Maiyo and Nixon Chepseba.


Eunice Sum, Janet Jepkosgei, Sylvia Chesebe, Cherono Koech, Agatha Jeruto and Mirriam Chepkemoi


Mercy Cherono, Irene Jelagat, Ann Karinai, Perin Nepkampi and Faith Chepngetich.


Caroline Kamau and PeterNduyu (physios); Esther Koech, Elkana Nyangau, Billy Kosgei (coaches), Isaac Mwangi (AKCEO).

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