NAIROBI, Kenya, June 19- The final lap of the Kenyan Olympics Trials are on from Thursday as the country’s enviably blessed distance running stars put their rich reputations on the line in the ultimate battle for London tickets.
Beijing gold medallists, Asbel Kiprop, Brimin Kipruto, Pamela Jelimo and Nancy Jebet Langat begin the arduous journey of scaling the venerated heights of repeat Olympic champions when they line up for the preliminaries at Nyayo National Stadium.
“I will give my best but it will be tough at Trials since everyone is out to qualify for the Olympics. My goal remains winning the Olympics on the track and it has not changed,” Kiprop, who was elevated to the top medal following the doping ban of Bahrain cheat, Rashid Ramzy told Capital Sport on Wednesday.
Kipchoge Keino, the retired legend and chairman of National Olympics Committee of Kenya remains the only Kenyan who has repeated as Olympics titleholder, having won the 1500m gold in Mexico 1968 before bagging the 3000m steeple crown in Munich 1972.
Besides the Beijing champions, Ezekiel Kemboi, who led the Kenyan men 3000m steeplechase sweep at the Athens Games in 2004 is the other seeking to match Keino by securing his place in the London party.
With 13 athletes having booked front row seats at the bell, the dash for the remaining 32 slots will undoubtedly inflame the red tartan of Nyayo National Stadium.
Besides the Olympics titleholders, World champion and record holder David Rudisha, double Daegu gold medallist, Vivian Cheruiyot as well as a plethora of Olympics, world, Commonwealth, Africa and junior champions/medallists will be seeking a slice of London.
According to the federation, the first two across the line will win automatic places for London with the lottery of wildcard selection being employed to decide the bearer of the third ticket that only heightens the drama if past years are a yardstick.
Rudisha, who put sizzled to a staggering 1:41.74 world lead and fifth sub 1:42 performance of his career at Adidas New York Grand Prix Samsung Diamond League (SDL) meeting on June 9, is undoubtedly the headline act of the meet.
World Youth record holder, Leonard Konsencha, the rising Job Kinyor who is an All Africa Games bronze winner, will queue up as the youngsters taking on the might of the runner nicknamed ‘Pride of Africa’.
Apart from a shock loss to Ethiopia’s World Indoor champion, Mohammed Aman in Rome last September, Rudisha has remained unbeaten in his discipline for the large part of three years.
Konsencha, who ran a national junior record of 1:43.60 in Rabat, Morocco, is ranked fourth in the world list and rose to prominence last year when he won World Youth gold and Commonwealth Youth silver.
Kinyor (1:43.8, PB) is sixth on the 2012 rankings having powered to the top of the two-lap running pile in a dream season that has already seen him end up as Rudisha’s bridesmaid during the opening SDL meet in Doha.
Another youngster pushing for selection is Timothy Kitum, who bagged Kenya gold at Commonwealth Youth Games after trailing Konsencha for bronze in Lille.
Former World champion, Alfred Kirwa Yego, who won bronze in Beijing, Commonwealth titleholder, Boaz Lalang, Commonwealth bronze winner, Abraham Kiplagat as well as African bronze medallist, Jackson Kivuva are also in the fray.
The women’s event will be another instalment between fierce domestic rivals Beijing champion Jelimo and silver medallist, Janeth Jepkosgei, who won the world title in 2007.
Defeat by Jepkosgei at the Trials for Berlin 2009 World Championships was the beginning of a two-season decline that saw Jelimo struggle to impose herself on the discipline she commanded on her breakout season.
However, she worked her way back to form and consequently won the World Indoor title in Turkey with a 1:58.83 in March that is a closed circuit national record.
Jelimo has already set the world leading mark of 1:56.94 but Ethiopia’s rising prospect Fantu Magiso applied the brakes to her resurgence when she won the Rome Golden Gala on May 31.
Having won 14 medals for her nation, Jepkosgei has held her own on the international circuit despite facing stiff competition from upcoming youngsters since she finished ahead of all in Osaka.
Having run her year best of 1:57.79, Jepkosgei is yet to be a spent force.
Kiprop has it all to do in an anticipated titanic contest against Worlds silver medallist and 2012 leader, Silas Kiplagat, who has emerged as his rival-in-chief as well as Nixon Chepseba, the Diamond League champion smarting from missing last year’s Daegu showdown where his rivals finished 1-2.
Last year, Kiplagat edged out Kiprop at the Trials that saw the soil record of 3:31.9 at Nyayo and it was that defeat that fired up the Olympic gold medallist to go ahead and charge to the world title.
That in turn inflamed Kiplagat who proceeded to turn tables at the opening Diamond League event in Doha where the pair engaged in an intense showdown that produced the fastest times of the year, 3:29.63 against 3:29.78.
Chepseba is the third runner to dip under the 3:30 standard with his 3:29.90 victory in Hengelo firing a warning to the frontrunners they will not have it their way.
The pretenders in this race include Bethwell Birgen, Collins Cheboi (Nos 5 and 7 for 2012), World junior champion, Caleb Mwangangi, 2008 World Junior silver winner, James Magut as well as Daniel Kipchirchir Komen who was chosen ahead of Chepseba for South Korea.
World Indoor titleholder, Hellen Obiri has taken over from Jebet Langat as the leading act in the women metric mile with the Beijing champion struggling with knee injury since winning the double at Delhi Commonwealth Games in 2010.
Beijing finalist Viola Kibiwott and Daegu 800m competitor, Eunice Sum, a protégé of Jepkosgei are other runners to watch in this event.
Olympics silver winner, Eliud Kipchoge, is in the last chance saloon to make his third successive appearance at the Games in the men 5000m Trial having seen his dream to run in the 10000m crushed at the Pre Fontaine Classic in Eugene on June 2.
World Junior 3000m champion, Isaiah Kiplangat Koech who has blasted to 12:57.63 this season, the second quickest mark of the year however, remains the rank favourite ahead of Africa champion, Edwin Soi, who won bronze in Istanbul and Augustine Choge, the Commonwealth champion in 2006.
Thomas Longosiwa, fifth in Daegu and World Cross silver medallist, Paul Tanui are other key contestants.
Cheruiyot, who is bidding to double in London will contend with another deep field led by her beaten silver winners from Daegu, Sally Kipyego and Sylvia Kibet with World junior 3000m champion, Mercy Cherono and Priscah Jepleting who was fourth over 10000m at the Worlds also in the fray in the women’s equivalent.
Having won the last seven Olympics medals, the question in the Kenyan team is whether world lead, Paul Kipsiele Koech can find a miraculous cure for his chronic failure to thrive at high altitude competition.
Kipsiele, who was a second shy of the world record with his devastating display of 7:54.31 in Rome, has made missing selection in successive Kenyan teams due to his inexplicable ability to fold at the Trials a ritual.
His last outing in Kenyan colours was at the Berlin Worlds where he just missed out on bronze but nothing less of a top three finish will invite consideration for the athlete who has set the world leading times on four occasions in the last five years.
Olympics winner Kipruto, two-time Worlds winner, Ezekiel Kemboi who bagged the top medal in Athens as well as Commonwealth, Continental Cup and African titleholder, Richard Mateelong represent the trio who have exchanged major honours in the past few seasons.
Among the dark horses lurking in the background, the 2005 World Youth winner, Abel Mutai, has picked up a rich run of form this season and statistically he is the best outside bet of forcing his way to London.
After winning two successive bronze medals at the Worlds, two-time Diamond League winner, Milcah Chemos is itching to move up the rostrum, preferable on the middle of the podium in London.
She signalled intent when setting the 9:07.14 African record in Oslo earlier this month and her place in the London bound team is virtually assured.
Commonwealth silver winner, Mercy Njoroge, Africa bronze winner, Lydia Rotich, All Africa Games fourth finisher, Lydia Chepkurui and World Youth gold winner, Hyvin Kiyeng; will be compelled to battle out for the remaining slots.
Hopefuls in sprints, hurdles, relay, field and Race walking events will have an opportunity to challenge inclusion in the projected 45-strong athletics team for London.
The first batch of London competitors will depart for the UK city of Bristol on July 3 and the last participants, marathon men will leave the Kenya on August 7 with the mission of surpassing the best return at the Olympics that stands at six gold, four silver and four bronze won in Beijing.
LONDON 2012 ATHLETICS TEAM SO FAR
Men marathon- Wilson Kipsang, Abel Kirui, Emmanuel Mutai (Alternate- Stanley
Women Marathon- Mary Keitany, Edna Kiplagat, Priscah Jeptoo (Alternate- Florence
Men 10000m- Wilson Kiprop, Moses Masai, Bidan Karoki
Women 10000m- Vivian Cheruiyot, Joyce Chepkirui, Sally Kipyego
Men Javelin- Julius Yego