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Team Kenya raring to go

NAIROBI, Kenya, March 15- The training is over. The farewell party hosted. The plane revved. All that remains is the most feared cross country team in the world to arrive at their next port of call in Punta Umbria Spain to do what they do best, annihilate the competition.

That was the often repeated refrain as Kenya’s cross country team was thrown a huge send-off luncheon by sponsors Kenya Commercial Bank (KCB) on Wednesday hours before their scheduled departure for the 39th World Cross in Spain.

Bloated optimism characterised the occasion as Team Kenya were anointed ‘Kings of the World Cross’ even before their coronation on Sunday but those at the core of the 24-strong squad preached caution in the face of skyrocketing expectations.

“What I can tell Kenyans is to expect something good from Spain. We have prepared well, gone through our programme without any problems and we have to watch out since everyone is there to beat us,” head coach, David Letting, who was at the helm of last year’s roaring performance in Bydgoszcz, Poland stated.

“We are not going there to focus on Ethiopians alone. There are other good runners from many countries who could cause us problems. However, we are fit and ready for the task and for me, winning a World Cross medal, the only one I don’t have would is what I’m going for,” World, Commonwealth and African women 5000m titleholder, Vivian Cheruiyot told Capital Sport.

Her last and only outing at the top distance running gathering on the planet was at the 2007 World Cross in Mombasa where she finished eighth in the women’s senior 8km race.

“As a champion, I do not feel any pressure and I will go there to run my race and do my best,” she added, dispelling any notion her status as a multiple gold winner is bearing down on her.

Overall team captain, Matthew Kisorio, who had earlier promised victory in his address to dignitaries at the auditorium, offered a reality check outside the gathering saying, “I cannot promise a win but what I know is we shall give our best. But this is athletics and even if you give your best, someone else who was more prepared than you can beat you.”

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Kisorio knows what the flip side of the burden of expectations having finished sixth at the 2008 World Cross in Edinburgh (junior race) having come in as everyone’s roaring favourite.

Speaking at the send-off, KCB CEO, Martin Oduor-Otieno promised the team a total payout of Sh2.7m, with Sh300,000 going to each individual gold medallist with Sh200,000 and Sh100,000 available for silver and bronze winners.

“We hope to be at the airport when the team returns to celebrate. If we do not make it, then it will be a sign that things did not go well. We are confident the team has prepared well through our KCB series and they will do what they did in Bydgoszcz,” the chief executive noted.

Athletics Kenya (AK) general secretary, David Okeyo, explained the teams’ itinerary saying they would board a Swissair night flight for Zurich before to connecting to Barcelona, then Seville in Spain where they will be driven by bus in a one and a half hour journey to Punta Umbria to arrive Thursday evening.

“Already, two of our top officials, team leader, Joseph Kinyua and media liaison officer,  Peter Angwenyi are already in Spain to ensure when the team arrives, they will go straight to their rooms to rest so that they can warm-up Friday morning,” he expressed.

Kenya will be defending the most dominant performance ever recorded at a World Cross they staged last year in Bydgoszcz, Poland where they won all four individual and all four team titles on offer. The team will field six athletes apiece at the junior women 6km, junior men 8km, senior women 8km and senior men 12km races on Sunday.

Defending champions, Joseph Ebuya (men long race), Emily Chebet (women 8km), Caleb Mwangangi (junior men) and Mercy Cherono (junior women) will not field after failing to secure their berths for Spain at the February 19 IAAF Permit/KCB National Cross Country Championships.

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