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Rebooted Jepkosgei on podium prowl

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JANETH-JEPKOSGEINAIROBI, Kenya- At the last year’s London Olympics, the unfamiliar sight of a limp Janeth Jepkosgei almost propping up the field in seventh during the women 800m final almost went unnoticed.

By then, all cameras were trained on the celebratory jig of Russia’s Mariya Saminova, who added the Olympics crown to the world title she won in Daegu.

Yet, London marked the first final Jepkosgei had taken part without medalling for a decade, having announced her arrival at the high table of women 800m running with the World Junior title in 2002.

Her impressive portfolio also contains a world title (2007), Olympics silver (2008), Worlds silver (2009), Worlds bronze (2011), Commonwealth gold (2006), African crown (2006), African silver (2010) and African 4X400m bronze (2010).

With her pride wounded, the medal machine nicknamed ‘Eldoret Express’ following her crushing victory over the legendary ‘Maputo Express’ Maria Mutola at the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games silently returned home to recharge her batteries, reboot the engine and rev up for a swansong at the Moscow Worlds in her two-lap race speciality.

“I was thinking to moving to the 1500m this year but for I decided to focus on the 800m for the World Championships for now. I have not decided on anything until the World Championships are over,” she said in June after competing at the National Championships.

In Moscow, she will also mark a personal milestone in the select group of Kenyans athletes who have appeared in four successive World Championships, an impressive record considering the high turnover of talent prevalent in the country.

Eliud Kipchoge (2003 to 2011) and reigning men 1500m titleholder, Asbel Kiprop (2007 to 2013) are among others in this hallowed club.

That will is however, secondary to her aim of scaling the podium heights once again, to further cement her legacy as one the most decorated female athletes in her country’s history.

“I hope to come out with something at my fourth appearance and be in a good position to make the podium. But first, qualifying for the finals is my target,” she underscored before the team departed for Russia on Tuesday morning after a 14-hour flight delay occasioned by a fuel outage.

To realise her dream that stretches as far as reclaiming the crown she last won in Osaka where she scorched Mutola once again, Jepkosgei is aware she has to overcome the high hurdle carried by home runners led by Saminova who will undoubtedly enjoy fanatical support at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.

“They (Russians) have been difficult to beat for the last three years but it is my aim to go there and disturb them a little, challenge them at home and then we see. Competing at home will place them under so much pressure, I know how, I lost the African gold medal in Nairobi,” the Beijing Olympics silver winner stressed.

Jepkosgei who had the rug pulled from under her feet by teenage newcomers in successive competitions, compatriot Pamela Jelimo at the 2008 Olympics and Caster Semenya of South Africa at the Berlin World Championships a year later in Berlin when she came in as the one to beat is also wary of upstarts raining on her Russian parade.

“In sport, it is always good to welcome new talent and I wish them all the best but I’m still here and since it is an open game, I’m prepared for anything that comes in Moscow,” she quipped.

As one of the most experienced athletes in the Kenyan squad that will present 49 competitors for the 14th World Championships that start on Saturday, Jepkosgei was duly appointed the vice-captain of the squad, a role she has carried since the Beijing Olympics.

“My team is ready and even if we do not have some of the experienced athletes in the squad, we have strong runners to take their places so there is nothing to worry about, everyone knows we are going to a World Championships and they know what to do,” she told.

Kenya will miss David Rudisha (men 800m), Abel Kirui (men marathon) and double women titleholder, Vivian Cheruiyot who picked up the top medal at the last edition in Daegu in Russia.

Jepkosgei is travelling to Russia alongside her protegee, Eunice Sum (women 800m) the athlete she plucked from single motherhood and shaped her into a solid mid-distance athlete.

“Having my daughter in the same team for the third major championship in a row (after Daegu and London) fills me with great pride and when I’m finished with running, I will mentor many more girls to become like her,” she said of Sum who beat her in the race for Moscow during the July 23 Trials, 1:59.3 against 1:59.7.

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