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Podium sweep chances alive after quartet sail through

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DAEGU, South Korea, August 29- The Kenyan men 3000m steeplechase team to any major event is always an attraction and in oven hot conditions in Daegu Monday morning, the four exponents the country brought to Korea did justice to expectations by qualifying to Thursday’s finals.

Between them, Ezekiel Kemboi, the defending titleholder, Brimin Kipruto and Richard Mateelong hold two Olympics, two Worlds, three African and two Commonwealth titles with the top medals changing hands like relay batons among the trio.

On Thursday, unless a major upset of Bolt men 100m false start proportions occurs, one of them will leave the Daegu Sports Stadium with the 2011 World title adorning his neck.

Abraham Chirchir, who at 30 is making his debut at the Worlds, will join his illustrious compatriots in the medal race.

“It was not easy, it was a tough race but the final will be tougher than today. The weather was not okay, it is very humid but I will try my best to defend my title,” Kemboi, who won his heat in 8:10.93, the quickest run of the rounds said.

South Africa’s Reuben Ramolefi, who at the Berlin finals two years ago made the early running before the Kenyan steamroller took charge, will get his chance for another tilt at their might after trailing Kemboi across the line in 8:11.50.

Morroco’s Hamid Ezzine (8:11.81), Ethiopia’s, Nahom Mesfin (8:12.04, PB) and Frenchman Bouabdellah Tahri (8:13.22, fastest qualifier) also made it from this heat.

Continental Cup, Commonwealth and African titleholder, Richard Mateelong, the overall Team Kenya captain, opted to ease to the finals, finishing third (8:23.76) in his heat won by Ugandan teenager and show pony, Jacob Araptany (8:18.57), 19, who laid out an exciting repertoire of celebrations to the crowd.

“The target for today was just to qualify among the top four; the real race will be on Thursday in the final. My body is good although there was a lot of heat but I feel good,” Mateelong said.

In the third and final qualifier, Olympics champion, Brimin Kipruto (8:29.21) trailed Uganda’s Benjamin Kiplagat (8:19.96) and Ethiopia’s Roba Gari (8:20.28) to the line to book his place in his quest to add a second world title after soaring to glory in Osaka four years ago.

“Our prayer as Kenyans is to get to the medal bracket as a team in the finals. The weather was too hot and it is our hope is the conditions will be better during the final.”

The fourth Kenyan, Chirchir (8:03.29) who was in the same heat came home in fifth but had a nervous wait before he earned his place at the final via the fastest losers route.

French Olympics silver medallist, Mekhissi-Benabbad (8:23.71), who denied Kenya the podium sweep in Beijing, also made the decider after finishing second in Mateelong’s heat.

He tipped the Kenyans as favourites although just like his competitors, complained about the baking conditions.
“Favourites, Kenya. My aim was to make the finals but conditions were difficult because the temperature was hot,” the Frenchman said.

Compatriot, Tahri also cost Kenya the podium shut out in Berlin when he came in for bronze ahead of Paul Kipsiele Koech who did not make the Daegu party.

– Mutwiri Mutuota is reporting for Capital FM from Daegu, South Korea

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