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Top athletes up in arms over Bristol plans

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NAIROBI, Kenya, June 29- A bitter face-off looms between National Olympics Committee of Kenya (Nock) and celebrated distance runners over the planned Tuesday departure for the UK city of Bristol for London 2012 training.

Top mid distance runners have intimated to Capital Sport that they are dead set against leaving for a 14-day training camp in the UK city before checking in at the Olympics Village on July 16.

On Friday, the local Olympics Committee reiterated their departure plans for London 2012 where 800m and 1500m runners are set to join sprinters, the lone male Javelin thrower Julius Yego, two boxers and a weightlifter in the first Team Kenya batch.

“We have been preparing for the Olympics since January and to see the effort and sacrifice we have put in training go down the drain in two weeks is demoralising. We are willing to meet the costs of travel if need be so that we can be excused and delay our departure to at least July 27.

“We are requesting the team’s management to understand we have to stick to our programmes if we shall achieve the mission of winning this country the medals they desire,” a champion athlete who declined to be named for fear of antagonising officials and teammates told Capital Sport on Friday.

Earlier in the day, Team Kenya CEO and Nock executive, Stephen Soi announced the final schedule of departures for London after intense and rocky negotiations with their Athletics Kenya (AK) chiefs led by chairman Isaiah Kiplagat who joined the athletes in opposing the enforced departure for the Bristol camp.

Soi maintained the bulk of the squad including athletes in 400m, 800m, 1500m, 400m Hurdles, 4X400m relay and the lone Javelin thrower, Julius Yego would leave for Bristol on July 3.

“The boxers, female weightlifter and officials will be among the 49 who leave on Tuesday to arrive in London on July 4 and they will proceed to Bristol,” Soi announced.

“Those who will arrive back from the African Championships in Benin on the morning of July 3 will leave with the rest of the team that evening aboard a Kenya Airways flight,” he added.

Among those in Benin action include Yego, the national record holder in Javelin who qualified for London on B-Standard entry, Vincent Koskei (400m Hurdles) as well as Commonwealth champion, Mark Mutai, Anderson Mureta and Vincent Mumo (400m) who are also part of the 4X400m relay team.

Commonwealth silver medallist, Ben Gicharu and middleweight debutant female boxer, Elizabeth Andiego are the pugilists in the squad with Mercy Obiero, the female wildcard weightlifter in the squad will also be in the first contingent.

Swimmers Jason and sibling David Dunford are scheduled to link up with their teammates in Bristol on July 9 with the second group of competitors including the 3000m steeplechase, 5000m and 10000m athletes set to leave on July 22 for the Olympics village.

The controversial Bristol camp is due to be closed on July 16 with the Kenyan contingent travelling to the Olympics village ahead of the July 27 opening ceremony with track and field action, Kenya’s biggest interest at the event due to kick-off on August 2 at the Olympics Stadium.

Women marathoners, world champion Edna Kiplagat, London titleholder, Mary Keitany as well as Daegu silver winner, Priscah Jeptoo who will compete on August 5 are set to depart on July 30.

The final Team Kenya aces, the male ultimate distance runners namely two-time world champion, Abel Kirui, 2011 London winner and 2006 Worlds silver medallist, Emmanuel Mutai as well as London titleholder, Wilson Kiprop are penned to leave for London on August 7 ahead of their race on the closing day on August 12.

Differences between Nock and AK have been simmering since last Saturday when the Olympics body boss and two-time gold winner, Kipchoge Keino, declared the decision to travel to Bristol was final.

He is due to be honoured with the high Freedom of the City honour by the UK city on July 5 and Nock’s rank and file have urged Team Kenyan athletes to be present as a massive show of support.

The partnership between Bristol and Kenya was announced last year with a stadium named after Keino.

Separately, Nock officials have accused their AK counterparts of scuttling the Bristol plans due to vested interest.

“Someone should question Kiplagat on similar plans they had made for the athletics team to train in the city of Bedford,” the Olympic Committee Executive who refused to be identified told Capital Sport.

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