DAEGU, South Korea, August 26- At the Berlin Worlds two years ago, Linet Masai ended a 12-year wait for the women’s 10000m gold at the first track final of the 12th edition of the grandest global gathering in track and field.
Stunned beyond words, Masai, barely out of her teens at 20, took hours to soak in the adulation that comes with conquering the best the world has to offer.
On Saturday afternoon, 3pm Kenyan time to be precise (9pm here in Daegu), Masai will line-up with every stride she makes being a topic of discussion as she seeks to defend her title.
With a deep quality field out to dethrone her, she has indicated she will not relinquish her crown without a fight.
“Two years ago, no one expected me to win but this time, everyone is looking at me. It will not be easy but I will give my best,” the lanky athlete from Mount Elgon stated.
With three powerful runners in the form of double chasing world 5000m champion, Vivian Cheruiyot, Osaka 2007 bronze winner in 5000m, Priscah Jepleting and Oregon based nurse, Sally Kipyego who broke to the Kenyan elite track team this year, Masai has illustrious company in the red, green and gold corner.
While the accomplishments of Cheruiyot, Masai and Jepleting are well documented, Kipyego is coming to the final as an underdog ready to mow down established names as she seeks to fulfil the vast potential that has seen her race to nine US collegiate titles.
“I’m really excited, when we got we were expecting it to be really hot but its only a bit more humid than Kenya. I’m looking forward to tomorrow since it is my first World Championships and I want to go there and let loose on the track,” the eloquently spoken athlete said Friday.
As the entire gaze focused on her more illustrious competitors in her teammates, the Ethiopian charge and runners such as America’s Sharlane Flanagan, Kipyego is relishing her status as she plots to mug the frontrunners in the race for the podium.
“Just being an underdog and nobody really noticing and not being a big threat is a good position to be in. I love the place I am a no-effect supposingly, I’m hoping I can blend in and go with it and see what happens, maybe surprise a few people,” she added.
Anyone who is a fan of the America NCAA racing is informed of her ability and what the rest of the world could consider as a monumental upset if she medals in the women 10000m is really within her range.
Born in Marakwet and sister to steeplechaser Mike Kipyego (silver Africa championships 2008), she has racked an enviable list of honours in collegiate running in America where she graduated with a degree in nursing from Texas Tech University in May 2009.
“Nursing has given me a primary duty of care and serving others and athletics has given me a foothold in life,” Kipyego states.
She is the first Kenyan woman to win a NCAA cross country individual championship, the first woman to win three consecutive NCAA Division I Cross Country titles, and the first runner to win three successive Big 12 Conference cross country crowns.
She is tied with Suzy Favor-Hamilton for the most individual championships in NCAA history. Kipyego won more individual NCAA championships in two years than any other runner in NCAA history.
The medal hopeful in Saturday’s women 10000m finally tried but failed to make Kenyan teams for the Osaka Worlds, Beijing Olympics, Berlin Worlds and Nairobi Africa Championships but a change of training venue to Iten ahead of the Daegu Trials saw her follow Cheruiyot to the line and earn her place.
“This is the first medal we will defend here and I’m confident we will do it, defend all other titles we have and add more,” Sammy Rono, Team Kenya assistant coach offered.
He added: “With Linet, Vivian, Priscah and Sally who has been very encouraging in training, I do not see us losing this.”
Jepleting is returning from a maternal break where she welcomed Reagan Kimutai in May 2009 and just as she wills her son to rise to greatness like iconic retired American president, Ronald Reagan, she is also relishing a comeback to the grand stage she last graced in Osaka 2007 where she won bronze in 5000m.
“Making the Kenyan team for the World Cross Country this year really motivated me since I knew I was not left behind by others. The fear when one takes a break is that she will return to find everyone has gone far,” the athlete who first represented her nation whilst still in Primary school said.
Jepleting returned to the World Cross with an individual fifth finish and team gold in Punta Umbria this March and having made a resounding debut over 10000m in Ostrava where she finished second to Ethiopian Meselech Melkamu, she opted to contest the distance at the Trials, finishing third and being named in the team.
Meselech who soared to the African title in Addis Ababa 2008 leads the Ethiopian charge with Meselech Belaynesh Oljira and Tigist Kiros (third and fourth in Ostrava) lining besides her in the provisional start list.
Flanagan, who won bronze in Punta Umbria behind Cheruiyot and Masai, leads the outside-East Africa medal challenge.
However, the women 10000m final is billed to be a clash between Cheruiyot and titleholder Masai who have chased each other down to the wire in two epic showdowns this season, the first at the Trials for Punta Umbria where the 10000m titleholder reigned supreme before the former turned tables in Spain.
History chasing Cheruiyot, who will be the first Kenyan to claim a distance double if her Daegu mission succeeds is out to mirror her great Ethiopian rival and double Olympic champion, Tirunesh Dibaba who debut in 10000m in June and won the world title in the summer six years ago.
– Mutwiri Mutuota is reporting for Capital FM from Daegu, South Korea