BEIJING, August 23 – Kenya have a legendary Olympic history and on Sunday they will be hoping that they bring the curtain down on the athletics at the Olympics with their first ever gold in the men’s marathon.
Nothing would give them greater pleasure to achieve that, and at the same time deprive bitter East African rivals Ethiopia of the title that they have won four times.
Kenya, who have just a silver and two bronzes from their many assaults on the demanding event, have assembled a stunning looking line-up which on paper should provide an Olympic winner – provided they are right on form.
Leading their trio is the outstanding Martin Lel, who many consider to be the finest marathon runner of his generation after accruing no less than three London Marathon and two New York victories to boot.
Extraordinary as it might seem but this will be the first major championships for the 29-year-old, who has eschewed medals for the more lucrative allure of road racing and has been well rewarded for such a choice.
However, he has decided that national pride should this time take precedence over a well paid Sunday jaunt through another city’s streets and is looking forward to the challenge.
"Ordinarily I would treat this as I treat any other marathon, but with national honour at stake and the chance to give Kenya their first ever marathon title it heaps that much more pressure on you," said Lel.
"Normally I run just for myself, but this time I will have to rely on team tactics which will be a strange feeling for me. However, I will adjust."
The Kenyans believe they have such riches at their disposal that they could afford to leave world champion Luke Kibet back in Kenya – opting for World Half Marathon world record holder Sammy Wanjiru and triple Boston Marathon champion Robert Kipkoech Cheruiyot.
Cheruiyot’s injury just a week to the race gave Kibet a window of opportunity and the 25 year old will be looking to prove his credentials with a great performance.
Ethiopia’s marathon hopes suffered a blow when long distance icon Haile Gebrselassie decided that he would not risk his health in the polluted air of Beijing and ran in the 10,000m instead.
They still have runners to be reckoned with, perhaps their best chances lying with up and coming Paris Marathon champion Tsegaye Kebebe.
The oil and gas rich emirate of Qatar may see some return on their massive investment in Kenyan athletes after a series of disappointing results here as world silver medalist and Asian Games champion Mubarak Hassan Shami takes to the road for them.
If the Kenyan men need any extra motivation or encouragement then they can take it from the women’s team, who at last cracked the track in terms of gold here when Pamela Jelimo won their first ever Olympic title in the 800m.