NAIROBI, August 14 – After playing an almost peripheral role at the 29th Olympic Games, Kenya will be in the thick of things when the athletics programme starts at the Bird’s Nest in Beijing early Friday.
Fittingly, 800 metres World junior recorder and African champion Pamela Jelimo will be the first Kenyan on show when she takes to the track in the 800 metres heats.
The teenager has been the revelation of the athletics season setting five of the top seven times in the distance this year and is already the sixth fastest woman in history.
She will line up in heat three with Jamaica’s Kenia Sinclair, her main challenger.
World 800 metre champion Janeth Jepkosgei will be the next Kenyan track star on show in the last 800 metres heat of the day. Despite suffering five defeats this season-all at the hands of Jelimo, the “Eldoret Express” is one of the favourites and should advance to the next round without much difficulty.
In the evening session, the country’s 1500 metres men’s team will start their quest to deny Kenyan-born American Bernard Lagat gold in the mile.
All Africa Games champion Asbel Kiprop will get a close look at his American rival as both are drawn together in heat two. Kiprop has been in great form, setting a new personal best of 3:31.64 in Rome last month and should go through.
Commonwealth Games champion Augustine Choge is in heat four and should comfortably make the next round. The 22 year old is in fine fettle this season having won the competitive national trials as well as setting the world’s second fastest time of the season of 3:31.57.
Unheralded Nicholas Kemboi faces a baptism of fire in heat three. The 18 year old who is representing Kenya for the very first time in his career and, hopefully, stage fright will not get the better of him.
World bronze medallist Eunice Jepkorir will then lead the hunt for a place in the women’s 3,000 metres steeplechase final. Jepkorir is in heat three with Russian favourite Yeketrina Volkova.
All Africa Games champion Ruth Bosibori will continue her ascent to the top in heat one, while Veronica Nyaruai, who only took up the steeplechase in June, will be out to prove a point after being handed a wildcard to Beijing despite a poor fifth place at the trials.
The day’s first track final will be the women’s 10,000 metres final with Commonwealth champion Lucy Kabuu, World Cross Country Silver medallist Linet Masai and Peninah Arusei aiming to win Kenya her medal of the championships.
Kabuu carries the country’s best hopes of a medal having won at the trials while Arusei will be hard pressed to justify her inclusion in the race ahead of Africa bronze medallist Grace Momanyi.
Masai has been battling a leg injury and it will depend on whether she has completely recovered.
The Ethiopia trio of World champion Tirunesh Dibaba, her elder sister Ejagayehu and Mestawet Tufa start as the outright favourites.
The Kenyan-born Dutch pair of Lornah Kiplagat and Hilda Kibet will also be on show as will Elvan Abeylegesse of Turkey.