There were huge scares for the country’s headline acts in Turkey as Olympics champion Pamela Jelimo and Commonwealth titleholder who is also Worlds silver medallist, Silas Kiplagat, barely sneaked into the semis.
Teenager Timothy Kitum got his nation off to a dream start in the second heat of the men 800m when he attacked from the behind at the final bend to win the race.
Kitum, 17, the Commonwealth Youth gold winner and World Youth silver medallist timed his race to perfection, sitting in the fourth position as Qatar’s Musaeb Balla led through the opening three laps, crossing 600m in 1:22.90.
As they came for the final straight, Kitum, who was a picture of composure that belied the fact this is his first senior outing for his nation at a world event, calmly shifted the gears to go past Britain’s Andrew Osagie (1:49.73) and then Balla (1:49.71) to romp home victorious in 1:49.57.
Commonwealth champion, Boaz Lalang, who won World Indoors silver two years ago in Doha, took no chances when he lined-up in Heat 6 as he motored away from all challengers at the bell to clinch it in 1:49.50. Both will compete in Saturday’s semis.
Next up from the red, green and black clad brigade were the women 3,000m representatives, twice Worlds 5,000m silver winner, Sylvia Kibet and Helen Obiri, the Worlds 1,500m finalist in their 3,000m heats.
Experienced Kibet went out first and kept to the coattails of four-time World Indoors champion, Ethiopia’s Meseret Defar who duly led her across the line in 9:11.76 against 9:11.91 with the Kenyan easily sealing her slot in Sunday’s medal race.
Obiri, who is also making her World Indoors debut, replicated Kibet’s performance in the next heat, trailing Ethiopia’s Gelete Burka (9:01.32) to the line in 9:01.36 in the faster race to ensure Kenya will have both of her representatives in the final.
The first heart-in-the-mouth moment for Team Kenya came in the women 800m where the resurgent Jelimo who was selected on the back of her 1:59.10 performance in Lievin, France last month stuttered metres away from the finish having led comfortably from the bell.
Russia’s fast chasing Yuliya Rusanova upset the Beijing champion on the line in 2:00.26 for the sole automatic qualifying ticket to the semis as Jelimo timed 2:00.32 before nervously waiting for the ensuing two heats to be run to know her fate. In the end, her effort ended being the quickest of the losers.
The men 1,500m preliminaries saw debutant Birgen crash out of the competition after running 3:42.72 for fourth in the first heat won by Kenyan born Turk, Ilham Tanui Özbilen (born William Biwott Tanui) in 3:41.93 much to the delight of the home crowd.
In the next race, a shocking performance saw Kiplagat, one of the pre-event favourites for gold, struggle to earn one of the three automatic tickets as he faded to fifth in 3:39.59 but he was fortunate to maintain his medal hunt as the second fastest loser.
The Worlds silver winner looked set to bag one of the automatic berths before a late collapse 50m from the line in the faster heat which produced all the three fastest qualifiers for Saturday’s final where Morroco’s Abdalaati Iguider carried the day in 3:38.41.
Edwin Soi and Augustine Choge were scheduled to compete in the men 3,000m heats in Friday’s afternoon programme of the opening day.