NAIROBI, Kenya, March 21- The class of 2013 World Cross departed for Poland on Wednesday night with the sagging weight of history to emulate their performance at the same nation three years ago perhaps tougher than the 46 other nations they will face.
Since it was announced by world governing body IAAF that the now biennial collection of distance runners would return to Bydgoszcz, the mission for Kenya was immediately stated, emphasised and re-emphasised as to complete the perfect sweep of eight out of eight gold medals they won at the 2010 edition.
But for Ethiopia’s Imane Merga who pick-pocketed the senior men 12km title from the grasp of Kenyans in Punta Umbria two years ago, the pressure to repeat Bydgoszcz 2010 would not have been loaded on the 24 who left for the 40th World Cross.
“The team has trained well without any problem and we are going there to defend what we did in 2010,” Athletics Kenya (AK) chair, Isaiah Kiplagat said during the sumptuous send-off for the squad at a Nairobi hotel on Wednesday evening.
The elephant in the room question is, will the pressure to perform to the unprecedented level of 2010 motivate or crush a group that save for two World Cross winners, does not contain similar depth as the squad from three years ago?
Only seven among the 24 namely the 2010 senior women champion, Emily Chebet, Margaret Wangare who was fifth in the same race, Hosea Macharinyang (senior men), Japheth Korir (then a junior runner), Janet Kisa (then a junior), Viola Kibiwott and the reigning women junior World Cross titleholder Faith Chepng’etich have prior experience at the event.
Among them, Chebet, Wangare, Macharinyang, Korir and Chepng’etich will be returning to Poland.
Comparing both squads does not raise optimism of a repeat performance.
Then, the senior men line-up had Joseph Ebuya (champion), Leonard Komon (fourth), Richard Mateloong (seventh), Paul Tanui (eighth), Macharinyang (ninth) and Lucas Kimeli (18th).
None were debuting at the event as opposed to the class of 2013 that has Philemon Rono, Jonathan Muia Ndiku, Geoffrey Korir and Timothy Kiptoo making their maiden bow.
The senior women line-up is perhaps the most powerful line-up in the Kenyan armada with four of the six having prior World Cross experience. Irene Cheptai and Beatrice Chepkemei are the newcomers.
Only Hannah Wanjiru celebrated her World Cross debut in 2010 with Chebet, Linet Masai who is out injured, Lineth Chepkirui, Wangari and Gladys Chemweno having competed at the event prior.
Kenya will be parading a virtually unknown group in the junior men 8km with the World Youth and Junior champion, Conseslus Kipruto, the star of the squad- and he finished sixth at the Kenyan trials.
Leonard Barsoton, Michael Bett, Emmanuel Bett, Ronald Kwemoi and Moses Mukono, who was also at the Barcelona World Juniors, will be seeking their moment in the sun.
Another raw team is the junior women 6km set that has the reigning champion Chepng’etich, 19, as the lead act in her swan song World Cross as an age group athlete.
Sheila Chepng’etich (Barcelona World juniors) and Caroline Chepkoech (Africa Cross) have represented their nation before with greenhorns Roseline (whose name was variously spelled as Rofeline or Roferline) Chepng’etich, Pauline Kaveke and Agnes Jebet the World Cross debutants.
Myslecinek Park, on the outskirts of Bydgoszcz, is being prepared to welcome more than 400 runners from 47 different countries on Sunday.
The park was the venue for the championships three years ago but the circuit design has been modified since 2010 to make the course more challenging.
Larger hills are now incorporated, as well as more natural obstacles and less straight sections.
There will be one loop of 1950m which, combined with the start and finish straights, will make up the following approximate distances for the four races: Junior Women – 3 laps, 6km; Junior Men – 4 laps, 8km; Senior Women – 4 laps, 8km; Senior Men – 6 laps, 12km.
The team results are decided by the aggregate of places recorded by the scoring athletes of each team. The team with the lowest aggregate of points will be judged the winner.