BERLIN, August 14 – Traditional foes Ethiopia and Kenya will renew their age old rivalry in the first track final of the opening day of the 12th World Athletics Championships in Berlin on Saturday.World Cross Country Champion Florence Kiplagat, Africa 5,000 metres bronze medallist Grace Momanyi and Linet Masai will be tasked with denying Ethiopia the 10,000 metres gold for the first time since 1995 from 8:25pm Kenyan time.
The build upto the race has been dominated by the fitness of reigning champion Tirunesh Dibaba who has been suffering from an injury and confirmation that she will not defend her title on Friday afternoon will have done the Kenyan girls a world of good.
So will Kenyans step upto the plate?
Kiplagat certainly did so at the World Cross Championships in Amman where she succeeded Dibaba as the women champion.
She has however run sparingly this track season with just the one race to her name finishing second behind Meselech Melkamu in Utrecht in a personal best time of 30:11:53 in June 14 and skipped the national trials so her readiness or lack thereof is unknown.
A tremendous fighter, Momanyi will be looking to make up for lost time. Having been selected for the Beijing team, she was unceremoniously axed and returned home a pariah. Athletics Kenya handed her a wild card this year and she will be hoping to show them what they missed.
For Masai, Saturday’s race will represent the continuation of a sterling career in which has she has steadily risen to the top of long distance running in the country.
Despite Dibaba’s absence, the Ethiopian challenge will be just as tough with the trio having to contend with the Meseret Defar and Meselech Melkamu ranked first and second in the world this year.
A former Olympic 5,000 metres champion, Defar will double up by competing in the 10,000 metres race as well to fill in for her arch nemesis as well as making up for a lacklustre 2008 in which she lost her world record and Olympic title to Dibaba.
Melkamu has been in tip top shape this summer and with the fastest time in the year poses a huge obstacle while Wude Ayalew completes a formidable trio.
Before then the 3,000 metres trio of World junior record holder Ruth Bosibori, Milka Chemos and Gladys Kipkemoi will be the first Kenyans on show when they compete in the waters and barriers trace from 11.50am Kenyan time.
Bosibori has shown a return to form this year and in the absence of Olympic silver medallist Eunice Jepkorir, she will carry the weight expectation on her petite shoulders.
Chemos and Kipkemoi face a baptism of fire with the duo making their debut at this level. Kipkemoi is in the same heat as Russia’s Yeketerina Volkova who holds the championship record Chemos will have to contend with reigning Olympic champion and world record holder Gulnara Galkina in heat one.
That Kenya has yet to win gold in 1500 metres gold in the history of the World Athletics Championships is an odd statistic and Olympic champion in waiting Asbel Kiprop, African champion Haron keitany and Commonwealth 5,000 metres champion Augustine Choge star their campaign to change that anomaly on Saturday morning.
The trio are the top ranked athletes in their specialty and should easily make it to the semifinals.
Joyce Zakary will the n attempt the impossible in the women’s 400 metres heats. The 23 year old faces an uphill of qualifying of making it to the second round.
David Kimutai will then attempt to improve on his 19th place finish in Beijing in the men’s 20km walk from 2pm. The diminutive walker is hopeful of doing even better with the 2010 Commonwealth Games just round the corner.