NAIROBI, Kenya, May 30- In the meeting dubbed the gathering of a dozen champions, Kenyan interest at Thursday’s Samsung Diamond League Golden Gala in Rome will be anchored on some of the country’s best imports to distance running.
The Eternal City will witness Olympic champion, Pamela Jelimo, double world champion, Vivian Cheruiyot as well as world steeplechase champion, Ezekiel Kemboi line up to defend their reputations in yet another tantalising line up in the third leg of the 14 meet Diamond League circuit.
In the women two-lap race, Jelimo who has more than proved she is back to something close to the best form she wowed the world during her debut season in 2008 will be the headline act as she seeks a fourth victory on the bounce.
Since winning the World Indoor title in March (1:58.83), the Beijing titleholder has raced to victory in the opening DL meet in Shanghai (1:56.94/WL/11 May) and last week at the Ostrava Golden Spike (1:58.49) where she scorched the 2009 World Champion and Daegu silver winner, South Africa’s Caster Semenya whom she forced to second.
World champion, Mariya Savinova and her two predecessors to the crown, Semenya and compatriot Janeth Jepkosgei the Osaka champion will provide the opposition in Rome where victory especially over the Russian whom she has never beaten in competition going a long way in superimposing the belief that the ‘Kapsabet Express’ could well be in for another untouchable season.
Ethiopian rising sensation, Fantu Magiso who chased Jelimo in Doha as well as Britain’s London Olympics hope, Emma Jackson are also in the riveting field.
Although her race is not on the Diamond race roster, the women 5000m will see Cheruiyot, who is yet to taste defeat since February 2011 when she lost to Linet Masai at the Kenya Police Cross Country Champions come up against a field that will put her unbeaten sequence through another stern test.
Led by her chief Ethiopian arch-rival, Meseret Defar whom she held off over 3000m in Doha, the collection for the women 12 and a half lap-race includes her Daegu bridesmaid, Sylvia Kibet, world junior titleholder, Mercy Cherono, former Africa champion, Gelete Burka (Ethiopia) and former world junior titleholder, Viola Kibiwott.
But another Cheruiyot-Defar chapter will be the main feature in this race with the head-to-head record standing at seven for the Kenyan against the Ethiopian’s 18 in career meetings.
Berlin and Daegu world champion, Kemboi who is yet to open his season will endure a baptism of fire as he launches a campaign that he hopes will culminate with his second men 3000m steeplechase Olympics gold following his Athens success in 2004.
But as has been largely the case on the international circuit in the past few season, two-time Diamond League winner, Paul Kipsiele Koech who has thus far set a blistering 7:56.58 world lead in the Shanghai opener remains the biggest obstacle to Kemboi’s ambition of setting the stage alight in Rome.
The duo’s presence definitely suggests Saeed Saif Shaheen’s seven-year-old meet record of 7:56.34 could be threatened.
Frenchman Mahiedine Mekhissi Benabbad, who took the bronze medal behind Kemboi and Brimin Kipruto – who has yet to open his summer campaign – in Daegu, will be aiming to be in the mix.
World Indoor 3000m champion, Helen Obiri who is yet to spark to life at the beginning of this campaign has a job at her hands in the battle for supremacy in the women 1500m race.
Fellow Istanbul gold medallist and world leader, Ethiopia’s Genzebe Dibaba as well as two-time world champion, Maryam Yusuf Jamal of Bahrain, Britain’s Stephanie Twell and USA star Morgan Uceny are in the Metric Mile cast for Rome.