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Africa Cross squad ready for SA test

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NAIROBI, Kenya, March 15- Last year, Kenya turned the Africa Cross Country into an internal competition as the country’s runners swept all medals and top five places in South Africa.

On Friday, the class of 2012 returns to the same country on a mission to replicate the dominance when the event runs on Sunday in Cape Town.

However, Kenya will send a whittled squad of 16 due to what Athletics Kenya termed as ‘budgetary constraints’ and the glory charge will be not as straight forward with bitter archrivals Ethiopia are sending their team after missing out last year.

“We are only taking the scoring team. We are funding this team 100 percent as AK with no help from any tickets from the Government of anyone else.

“We have three major events this year, the African Athletics Championships, the World Juniors and Olympic Games and the Government is only putting in money in the Olympics,” Athletics Kenya (AK) chairman, Isaiah Kiplagat said on Thursday.

Africa Cross men junior titleholder, Japheth Korir, is the only victor from Johannesburg last year who is in the travelling squad with John Mwangangi (senior men), Mercy Cherono (senior women) and her younger sibling Caroline Chepkoech (junior women) failing to make the team during the February 18 Trials.

With 20 countries expected to compete for honours in South Africa, the gaze will be firmly on the Kenyan contingent.

Vincent Chepkok, the 2007 World Cross silver winner is the most experienced runner with Timothy Kiptoo who starred in this season’s domestic cross circuit as well as newcomers Fredrick Ndunge and Clement Langat comprise the men senior 12km squad.

Emily Chebet, the 2010 World Cross champion who bounced back to form with a fourth finish at the Kenyan Trials will be joined by Edinburgh and Bydgoszcz World Cross top ten placer Margaret Wangari, surprise Trials winner, Joyce Chepkirui and Esther Ndiema.

The junior races are peppered with quality with reigning World Cross junior women champion, Faith Chepng’etich leading the women 6km line-up with the corresponding 8km men’s race featuring World and Commonwealth Youth winner, William Malel.

Nancy Chepkwemoi who was fourth at the Punta Umbria World Cross and Alice Aprot who finished ninth in Bydgoszcz a year earlier in addition to new find Agnes Chebet complete the women junior 6km representatives.

Justine Cheruiyot and Cornelius Kangogo will join Malel and Korir in the junior men 8km event.

In addition to Ethiopia and the hosts, Eritrea, Morocco, Equatorial Guinea, Congo, Egypt, Uganda, Mauritius, Rwanda, Mozambique, Zambia, Angola, Botswana, Sudan, Namibia, Swaziland, Malawi, Lesotho and Zimbabwe will field runners at the continental event.

“Last year, we did not face stiff competition since the Ethiopians were not there. This time, we have stepped training since they will be there and the team is ready for the task.

“Having them and us will make the competition more interesting,” Kenyan head coach, Samson Katam who is leading the country out in the role for the first time said.

The team returns from South Africa on Tuesday where it will be treated to a reception.

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