NAIROBI, Kenya, July 24- While the men 3,000m steeplechasers have won the last 7 Olympic titles, their female counterparts are yet to break their duck at an event aptly named “Kenya race” where the women’s event will be contested for only the second time in London.
At the Beijing Olympics, Eunice Jepkorir won silver behind Russia’s Gulnara Samitova-Galkina world record effort of 9:01.59 when the female steeple made its debut at biggest sporting carnival on the planet.
African champion and Commonwealth silver medallist, Mercy Njoroge, who was reluctantly introduced to the event in 2004 is aiming to overcome two barriers when the starting gun to the women steeple final goes off at London Olympics Stadium.
One is to overcome teammate and two-time Samsung Diamond League winner, Milcah Chemos Cheywa, the lady who has forced her to the altar domestically and denied her certain gold at the Delhi Commonwealth Games when she took advantage of a costly slip at the last water barrier.
Secondly, Njoroge is eying to enter her country’s legend by taking down the might of the Russians who have owned the women steeple since its introduction to major senior competition during the 2005 World Championships where Uganda’s Dorcas Inzikuru crafted her name by lifting the title.
Not that she is betraying the burning ambition that is welling up in her system as she prepares for her first Olympics.
“I was optimistic of making the Olympics team but I had rated my chances as 50-50 that is why I had the back-up plan for the African Championships if I missed out since we have strong steeplechasers.”
“Competition will be tough in London but I intend to do my best and get to the podium.”
Having had obstructed view of the finish ever since she finished 4th at the 2004 World Youth Championships, Njoroge finally caught the bouquet at the Benin edition of the African Championships when she ran 9:43.26 for gold in Porto Novo for her first major senior title.
“The importance of winning gives you so much confidence and the belief that you can achieve. As I travel to London, I’m hopeful that if I can be at my best, I could return home a winner if God favours me,” the soft spoken Kenya Defence Forces soldier opined on her golden run in the continental event where she finished third in 2010 when it was held in Nairobi.
Njoroge, who also holds the World Military Games women steeple title after running 9:36.92 for victory in Rio De Janeiro last year was born in Njabini, Nyandarua District, an area that has given Kenya the likes of the late Olympic marathon champion, Samuel Wanjiru and five-time World Cross and 1988 Olympics winner, John Ngugi among other decorated runners.
“My teacher, Mathu, who used to teach geography, inspired me to run since every time I saw people running, I desired to run. He told me he would look for a camp for training in Njabini, my home area but he did not succeed,” Njoroge, now 26, recalled.
“Even if I was doing well in running, my parents would not hear that I was not studying and I had to finish my O Levels at least to fulfil their wish. After that, I joined the Defence Forces to have an alternative to my running career,” she said.
Njoroge was 5th at the All Africa Games in the steeple (10:07.48) in 2007 before joining the Forces the following year but not before finishing fifth at the 2008 Africa Athletics Championships in Addis Ababa.
Having been posted to Laikipia Airbase upon her conscription, she returned to the podium with bronze at the Nairobi Africa Championships before winning silver at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi.
A poorly executed final water jump where she landed heavily and stuttered allowed Chemos to crawl back the gap and the pair chased down each other neck-to-neck on the home stretch but her competitor gained the decisive edge at the last barrier where once again, Njoroge got beaten in the jump technique as she yielded to silver in 9:41.54.
The following season, she made her World Championships debut in South Korea and just missed out on the medals again when her 9:17.88 run was only enough for fourth, a position she also returned in the Samsung Diamond League’s Diamond Race where she earned 6 points.