NAIROBI, Kenya, June 22- Four Kenyan Olympic champions will kick off a mission of defending their fames when the country completes the line-ups in its athletics squad for London 2012 on Saturday here.
Asbel Kiprop (men’s 1,500m), Brimin Kipruto (men’s 3,000m steeplechase), Pamela Jelimo (women’s 800m) and Nancy Jebet Langat (women’s 1,500m) will have their hour of reckoning at the Nyayo National Stadium track when the Olympics Trials are on show.
Kiprop had some good warm-ups before the Trials as he had a career best record in the men’s 1,500m race in addition to the world title last year.
Jelimo has also hit the right form with the World Indoor title of women’s 800m in March after a three season slumber.
For Langat, a surprise winner of the women’s 1,500m at the Beijing 2008 and Kipruto, men’s 3,000m steeplechase champion of the Beijing Games, their London hopes at the killer selection event are solely dependent on their ability to rediscover the magic that worked a charm four years ago.
Having been awarded his top medal by the end of last year in Nairobi, three years after the Beijing final, Kiprop is ready to settle matters at the London Olympics Stadium.
“Receiving the Olympics gold medal at home last year was exciting and makes me special to some extent since I got the first Olympics gold medal in Africa. I have never heard it happen elsewhere.
“But just like in South Korea, I want to win it on the track and hear the national anthem played at the stadium and although competition will be tough, I believe I can do it,” Kiprop maintained after the sanctioning of Bahraini runner, Rashid Ramzy, who crossed the line ahead of him in Beijing.
Amazingly still 22, Kiprop has been or around the top of the men metric mile running since he exploded to the scene at the 2007 World Cross and All Africa Games where he picked junior 8km and 1,500m gold medals as a teenager.
His efforts to continue his golden run at the 2009 World Championships fell flat after a fourth finishing in the semi-finals as he fell victim to poor tactical running but he added the African 1,500m title to his collection the following year in Nairobi.
Last year, a painful defeat on home soil, a first in three years to bitter rival and Commonwealth champion Silas Kiplagat during the Kenyan Trials spurred him on to scorch the field at the finals of Daegu Worlds where he ran to the top medal in 3:35.69.
At the opening Samsung Diamond League race in Doha on May 11, the pair clashed with Kiplagat earning some measure of revenge on Kiprop but the world champion nonetheless achieved a career best 3:29.78.
On Thursday, he hardly engaged second gear en route to qualifying for the finals during the preliminaries at the Trials as he won his heat in 3:49.8.
Jelimo on the other hand was simply phenomenal in 2008, crushing all comers in women 800m as she won everything available to her including the African title, the defunct IAAF 1 million U.S. dollars Golden League jackpot, World Athletics Final and above all, making history as the first ever Kenyan female track Olympics champion when she ran 1:54.87 at the Bird’s Nest.
However, her presumed era of dominance was cut short when the runner nicknamed ‘Kapsabet Express’ lost the Kenyan Trial for Berlin Worlds to Janeth Jepkosgei before her subsequent assault on the world title exploded at the semis, just like Kiprop.
Knee injury was cited as the cause and for the next two seasons, Jelimo cut a forlorn figure as the undesired Did Not Finish statistic became her mainstay and it did not take long for her to disappear from the radar.
“It was painful as an athlete to see your friends running. You want to do more for your country but with an injury, it is so bad, you cannot do that. People close to me, my family and my company (Golazo Sports) offered me so much support.”
“Every now and then, I would want to train but the doctor would tell me to wait for another two weeks. After the two weeks, you would come and get the same injury again and be told wait for another two three weeks,” Jelimo re-lived her anguish.
Her belief and determination saw her re-emerge in the Olympics year where in March; Jelimo once again made history as the first Kenyan female runner to win a World Indoor Championship when she put together a winning 1:58.33 performance.
During the Doha meet, Jelimo stopped the clock at 1:56.94 for victory that remains the world leading time and after another 1:58.49 triumph in Ostrava, defeat to Ethiopian newcomer, Fantu Magiso in Rome halted her charge.
“I want to work on my speed and sharpness because the Ethiopian is there. I want to be at my best at the Olympics and to be a champion we have to be ready for her challenge in London,” she declared ahead of Saturday’s final.
Having won men’s 3,000m steeplechase silver in Athens, Kipruto completed the step up to the middle of the podium in Beijing when he pounded the last 200m with a devastating kick that saw him arrive ahead of all in 8:10.34.
His purple perch started in Osaka in 2007 when his superior finish landed him the world title in 8:13.82 with his Beijing golden run making him only the second man after Reuben Kosgei (2000 and 2001) to hold both Olympics and World titles.
Since then, however, Kipruto has seen his winning aspiration at major championships dented starting with a seventh finish in his World title defence in Berlin, bronze at 2010 Commonwealth Games as well as silver at last year’s Worlds in Daegu.
Internal rivals led by the fifth Olympics gold medallist on show on Saturday, Athens winner, Ezekiel Kemboi, who has won the last two world titles, African and Commonwealth titleholder, Richard Mateelong and to some extent, two-time Diamond League winner, Paul Kipsiele Koech have discovered a way to deal with his flying finish, Kipruto’s biggest asset.
Since shocking all and sundry with her searing finish that landed her gold in Beijing with 4:00.23, Langat followed the path of fellow Beijing winners in faltering at the Berlin Worlds where her interest ended at the semi finals.
She however, bounced back to rich form, collecting the African 1,500m title in Nairobi before making history by winning the 800m and 1,500m at the Delhi Commonwealth Games.
Her yoyo form spilled into last year where once again, she failed to spark at the World Championships, having aggravated a knee injury she suffered at a Diamond League race as once again, she fell off the running at the semi finals.
This season, Langat has recorded dispiriting 14th and eighth finishes in low key races Huelva and Veleje in Spain, hardly Olympic championship winning shape, let alone making her country’s team.
Wilfred Bungei, who quietly hung his spikes and will be a pundit at the London Games for terrestrial pay television channel, SuperSport and the late Samuel Wanjiru, are the other Kenyan Beijing champions having won the men 800m and marathon races.
Kipchoge Keino, who is the chairman of Kenya’s Olympics Committee, remains the only runner from the nation to win two Olympic gold medals, having scaled the heights at the 1968 Mexico (men 1500m) and 1972 Munich (men 3000m steeple) editions.