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Women marathon test to start Kenya medal chase

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DAEGU, South Korea, August 26- Kenyans will wake up on Saturday morning either awash in glory or ruing another missed opportunity when the women’s marathon team sets off the medal hunt at the 13th World Championships in Daegu, South Korea.

The race is pegged to start at 9am local time but with a six hour time difference, most Kenyans will be in various stages of sleep or for the night owls, inebriation when Edna Kiplagat, Priscah Jeptoo, Sharon Cherop, Irene Jerotich and Caroline Rotich attack the marathon course.

“The girls we have entered are so good and we foresee no problem when we look at the entry list. We are also going for the team title and we have emphasised on teamwork but everything goes according to plan, we shall win both gold medals,” head coach, Peter Mathu said Friday.

His assistant, Sammy Rono added: “The team is well prepared and when we came here, we were worried about the weather but with the humidity at 65 and temperatures at 27degrees, the conditions are good. I went round the course and it is very good and fast.”

Preferring to spend the eve of their run relaxing at the majestic Teams Village on Friday away from the glare of local media who turned up to get their final thoughts before their date with destiny, with the quintet  well aware on the onerous task before them.

Only Catherine Ndereba, the Gatunganga, Nyeri born distance running juggernaut that is in the final lap of a decorated career has ever won gold in this event for Kenya- not once, but twice- in Paris 2003 and Osaka 2007.

Such is the faith bestowed in the abilities of the runner who carries ‘The Great’ tag that Athletics Kenya sounded her out for a last hooray in Korea but even she admitted the indefatigable spirit she possesses could not be matched by the legs to carry it to the podium with Father Time catching up with them.

The class of Berlin 2009 failing even to announce their presence as Kenya sought a successor to Ndereba and the baton of expectation has been passed on to a line-up that inspires optimism.

Kiplagat, the New York Marathon winner and London third finisher has the spot light firmly shining on her but the so called support cast are no mean slouches. Jeptoo won the Paris Marathon in a brisk 2:22:55 and Cherop ran marginally faster in her Toronto victory with the clock stopping at 2:22:43.

Jerotich on the other hand is a late call-up to the side after injury ruled out Amsterdam champion, Philes Ongori and is out to deliver yet another top medal for Kenya after making history as the first runner from her nation to win Commonwealth gold last October in Delhi.

This is after she was tripped and forced to fall face flat with 5km gone inuring her knee before she decided to soldier on in the punishing heat of Delhi, catch up with the field and race for glory with 40km gone.
US based Caroline Rotich, the New York Half marathon champion who is out to make her name in the streets of Daegu rounds off the team.

“The chances of gold are very high since all the athletes have run under 2:24 and the race will not be won by anytime under 2:20 so they are all comfortable with running together and fast and they are suited for the conditions,” Mathu expressed.

Unless the flash rains that have interrupted the warm and humid weather covering Daegu, the fourth largest city of Korea fall, the race has been predicted to a be a cauldron for the runners.

With London marathon champion, Mary Keitany and Russia’s Liliya Shobukova the fastest in 2011 not entered, the women’s marathon is hard to predict with the flat multi-lap (2X15km, 1X12.195km) course that starts and ends at Gukchae-bosang Memorial Park with an elevation of 20m awaiting the competitors.

Arch-rivals Ethiopia, who are smarting from being pummelled by Kenya at the Beijing Olympics, Berlin World Championships and Africa Championships have brought heavy artillery to the race led by Dubai marathon champion, Aselefech  Mergia.

London fourth, fifth and ninth finishers Bezunesh Bekele (2:23:42, PB), Atsede Baysa (2:23:50, PB) and Aberu Kebede alongside the 2008 Boston champion, Dire Tune complete their line-up.

However, the biggest threat to the East African adversaries is the Asian Tigers runners with Japan fielding a strong team that includes Yukiko Akaba (sixth London, 2:24:09), Remi Nakazato (2:24:29, PB), Azusa Nojiri (2:25:29, PB) and Mai Ito.

Naoko Takahashi, the Sydney 2000 Olympics women’s champion, told Capital Sport on Friday the Japanese runners will use the Daegu race as a qualifier for next year’s Olympics in London.

“For our team, tomorrow’s race will be an individual affair as they fight for places in the Olympics team but to me, I think the Kenyans are favourite although we have strong runners from other countries,” Takahashi, who is working as a commentator/anchor for Japanese Tokyo Broadcasting System Television who have a heavy presence in Daegu, said.

China produced the champion in Berlin but Xue Bai is not returning to defend but Asian Games champion, Zhou Chunxiu and Zhu Xiaolin are more than capable understudies in a race that has attracted 55 startes.

-Mutwiri Mutuota is reporting for Capital FM in Daegu, South Korea

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