Battle royale at Ngong

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NAIROBI, Kenya, February 21 – Imagine you lived just days before the start of World War II on September 1 1939.MATHEW_KISORIOEnvision the tension that gripped humanity as frenzied media, mostly radio reports predicted the end of the world.

Then picture the moment when all hell broke loose when Germany invaded Poland and subsequent declarations of war on the Nazi by the United Kingdom, France, Soviet Union, United States and British Dominions among other allies.

Although not even remotely close to the scale of the conflict that saw 100 million troops involved in the war that claimed some 70millions lives, Saturday’s IAAF Permit National Cross Country Championships at Ngong Racecourse are shaping up to be one of if not
the most fiercest contested.

"Wakati hii, itakuwa mbaya, mbaya sana, itakuwa kama kichinjio (this time, the competition will be very stiff and will resemble a slaughter house)," the ever affable national athletics coach, Julius Kirwa, said of the selection event for the March 28 World Cross in Amman.

At stake, are 24 slots available to the cream of Kenya’s distance talent to don the famous red, green and black kit that has earned worldwide respect. Those 24 places are the precise reason why the event has assumed a warlike.

New IAAF rules for the World Cross have restricted entries for teams in each of the four categories (junior women 6km, junior men 8km, senior women 8km and senior men 12km) to six runners where four will score points for their countries. For many years, Kenya has been fielding 27 runners (nine senior men and all other categories taking
six).

"We shall not select a provisional squad this time. Only the final squad will be invited to the residential training camp since we have had problems with dropping athletes who have trained with the team in the past," Kirwa disclosed.

After the trials, the first four runners across the line will gain automatic places with a panel of selectors that include coaches and Athletics Kenya (AK) officials deciding whom to award the remaining two slots.

"All athletes especially in the senior men category know that they have to be at their best due to the limited places. I am proud of the standards of the crop of athletes we have at the moment," Kirwa said.

Although Gideon Ngatuny (seventh in Edinburgh), who led the charge at last year’s trials, has faded, a potent field spearheaded by last year’s silver medallist in Edinburgh, Leonard Komon is expected to turn Ngong Racecourse into a battle zone.

Other Edinburgh competitors likely to return are Moses Ndiema Masai (fifth), Bernard Kiprop (tenth), Mark Kiptoo (14th) and Hosea Mwok Macharinyang (11th).

A bubbling crop of youngsters fronted by the resurgent 2006 junior world champion, Mangatta Ndiwa, last year’s junior national champion and Levy Matebo, Matthew Kisorio (sixth, Edinburgh) among others are raring to upset the chart.

The graduation of the above means that new junior stars will be made. However, the junior bronze medallist from last year, Lucas Rotich, Titus Mbishei (fifth, Edinburgh) and Kisorio’s younger brother Peter Kimeli (seventh) are still around for another title shot in the 8km race.

JULIUS_KIRWA"After missing the junior and senior men’s team titles in Edinburgh, I am expecting the group of male athletes we have to reclaim what they lost to Ethiopia. I am confident they will deliver." Kirwa said.

The performance of female athletes, especially in the senior women’s race has been a constant thorn in Kenya’s flesh. Only Hellen Chepng’eno (1994) has won the senior women’s individual title.

"Our aim will first to reclaim the team title and from that position we could speak of producing an individual champion. There is great potential among our female runners and I expect the performance of our senior women to improve," Kirwa remarked.

At the moment, Edinburgh bronze winner and Olympic 10,000m fourth finisher, Linet Masai, is the best bet for Kenya’s aspirations of breaking the senior women’s hoodoo. In her debut year as a senior, she has already won five European Permit Cross-Country meeting including the tough Edinburgh Great Run and Amorebieta Cross in Spain.

The resurgence of the richly talented 2006 junior champion, Pauline Korikwiang, who bagged a hat-trick of victories at the national cross-country series, has also lifted Kenya’s chances.

Armed Forces champion, Lineth Chepkurui, Olympian Peninah Arusei, last year’s national champion, Grace Momanyi are other hopefuls drawing from their road running capabilities.

Out of the running are potent runners, Doris Changeiywo and inform World Championships 5,000m silver winner, Vivian Cheruiyot, who expressed interest in skipping the World Cross.

Junior stars from Edinburgh including silver winner, Irene Chepet Cheptai, Delvine Relin Meringor (fourth), Jackline Chebii (sixth), Dorcas Jepchirchir Kiptarus (eighth) and Mercy Jelimo Kosgei (12th) are still in the running in the same category.

Last year’s national champion who moved to Japan remains an injury
doubt but would add quality if she recovered in time.

After the trials, the team will shift to their traditional base at Embu’s St. Mark’s Teachers College, Kigari but will be trained at a location away from the foot of Mt Kenya.

"Amman is hot and we have located a place near Embu that has conditions similar. Plans to train the team in Taita Taveta were dropped due to technical difficulties," Kirwa said.

He would not be drawn to the prospects of the national team in Amman saying, "I will be in a better position when the team selected begins training."

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