Athletics Athletics

Birech ready to hurdle to Continental stardom

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BIRECH-AFRICANAIROBI, Kenya, September 12- Jairus Kipchoge Birech is expected to star in the men’s 3000m steeplechase race at the IAAF Continental Cup in Marrakesh, Morocco, with good reason after a commanding 2014, put him head and shoulders above the competition.

The self-coached athlete has been simmering under the surface, narrowly missing the London Olympics in 2012 and the Moscow World Championships last year following successive fourth finishes at the killer Kenyan Trials.

However, the moment for the 21-year-old arrived this season where he raced to the African and Diamond League titles besides taking unexpected silver at the Commonwealth Games in a blitz that chalked eight victories in 11 starts over the water and barriers race associated with his country of birth.

The fourth born in a family of seven reduced his challengers, including three-time world and two-time Olympics champion, Ezekiel Kemboi, to emerge as the undisputed king of the steeple and victory in Morocco in Africa’s colours will be a fitting end to the season.

Unlike those before him from a country that has churned the finest exponents of the steeple; he is not willing to go down in history as a one season wonder as he eyes glory at next year’s World Championships in Beijing and the 2016 Olympics in Rio-de-Janeiro.

“This year has been good for me since I did good build-up starting with cross country and the hamstring injury that affected me last year is gone,” he explained the surge that has electrified the steeple circuit this season.

“I believe I can run the World Record and bring it back home. I’m targeting the World Championships next year (2015) and to maintain my shape for the 2016 Olympics,” he underlined with the 7:53.63 record ran by Qatari Said Saeed Shaheen (formerly Stephen Cherono) in 2003 firmly in his sights.

“I have been praying to go to the World Cup since last year. For me, winning the Diamond Trophy and the World Cup would be a dream come true in a blessed year for me,” the 21 year-old told of his dream to compete at the gathering of continents in Morocco.

A distant cousin to the late Bahraini steeplechaser, Abel Yagout Jawher (formerly Abel Cheruiyot/died 2006) and 2007 Osaka Worlds men 800m champion, Alfred Kirwa Yego, the inspiration for Birech to be involved in athletics was internal.

In June of 2010 he turned up for the Trials of the World Junior Championships but a fifth finish (8:50.0) put paid to his hopes of making the Kenyan squad for the Moncton, Canada global showpiece.

“I went back to train hoping for better luck next time but at least I tried,” the son of peasant farmers who helped his parents graze their cattle and cultivate crops to sustain him and his elder siblings said.

Fortune favoured the aspiring steeplechaser in May 2011 when he was selected to compete for his nation at the 10th Africa Junior Championships in Gaborone, Botswana where he won silver behind compatriot Gilbert Kirui in 8:28.08.

Birech then placed sixth (8:30.16) at the ensuing National Championships to rule out inclusion in the Daegu Worlds Kenyan squad but his sojourn in the DL continued in Stockholm (8:19.41) before rounding off the season with a fourth finish at the All African Games (8:21.30) in Maputo.

He was selected for the quadrennial Pan African Games on the back of his finish at the Nationals where the top three went to South Korea for the Worlds and the next three to the AAG.

“I was not expecting to go abroad so soon and I was very happy with the experience especially being in the Kenya team,” he declared.

He had a busy 2012 at the DL, IAAF Permit European circuit meetings and domestically where he just missed out on making the London Olympics team by finishing fourth (8:14.05) at the June Trials.

Although he had another packed 2013, Birech’s season was brought to an abrupt end in early September before he could contest his second DL final in Brussels after suffering a hamstring injury that saw him sever his links with Rosassociati and join Global Sports management ran by another Italian Athletes’ Representative, Gianni Demadonna.

For the second year running, finishing just outside the podium (8:16.3) at the National Championships in July cost him the chance to compete for his country at the Moscow Worlds.

This year, he started his DL campaign in Doha where he ran his lifetime best over 3000m of 7:41.83 before returning to his favoured steeple in Shanghai (May/sixth), Eugene (June/seventh), Oslo (June/fourth), London (July/third), Zurich (second) where he ran his season’s best of 8:08.72 in August and Berlin (third/September) to round his season.

Birech exploded in 2014, with the only ‘blot’ in his copy book being forced to accept silver (8:12.68) at the quadrennial Commonwealth Games in August by former World Junior titleholder, Jonathan Muia Ndiku before he turned tables on his conqueror inside a fortnight to bag the African crown (8:34.79) in Marrakech, Morocco and make the continent’ s team for the World Cup in the same Morrocan resort city.

Having opened his DL charge with a fourth finish in Doha (May) nothing prepared the competition for what followed next as back-to-back victories in Rome (June), Oslo (June), Lausanne (July), Monaco (July) and Birmingham (August) confirmed him as the winner of the Diamond Race with the Brussels final to spare, reducing his task there to just showing up to pick the 40,000 U.S. dollars jackpot and gleaming Diamond Trophy.

His last show before the final in Birmingham brought drama as Birech, though tired started to soak in the victory, pumping his arm for the crowd as he rounded the final turn. But he started his run-up to the final barrier too late, stumbled and had to stop completely and brace himself on the barrier.

With no momentum, Birech put one arm on the barrier and went over sideways, one leg and then the other. Birech had such a large lead that he still won comfortably, but it was certainly a strange sight to see someone go over a barrier with his chest facing the crowd.

Having recharged his batteries, Birech turned up at the Brussels final and added another act to his repertoire-speed as he achieved his first sub 8:00 performance to be crowned the Diamond Race winner in the most emphatic of fashions.

Determined to become the 11th member of the sub-eight-minute club, Birech pushed the pace in the closing kilometre, opening up a gap on the hard chasing Olympics bronze winner, Mekhissi-Benabbad before the final lap.

He from his French rival and stopped the clock at 7:58.41, taking him to 10th on the world all-time list.

“The steeplechase is a race one can dominate for over 10 years if you maintain discipline and my prayer is to maintain the same form I have this season take over from our veterans like (Ezekiel) Kemboi, Brimin (Kiruto), (Paul) Kipsiele and (Richard) Mateelong who have been good champions for Kenya,” Birech, who aspires to be a businessman and maybe later return to advance his education besides being a force in the steeple underlined.

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