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Copenhagen glory beckons Kabuu

KABUU-DELHICOPENHAGEN, Denmark, March 26- Is Saturday the day 2006 Commonwealth 10,000m Lucy Wangui Kabuu finally ascends to the middle step of the podium for her nation since turning to the roads when the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships go down in Copenhagen, Denmark?

The 30 year-old mother of one was bizarrely overlooked for the London 2012 Olympics women’s marathon team despite stating a strong case for inclusion when she ran a lifetime best of 2:19:34 on her storming debut at the Stanchart Dubai Marathon where she was beaten to second by Ethiopia’s Asifelech Mergia.

That has only be bettered by Mary Keitany (2:18:37) and former world marathon record holder, Catherine Ndereba (2:18:47), her heroine and mentor, in the Kenyan all time list for the marathon.

“She has the time yes, but she is not experienced. She is one for the future,” the no-nonsense Athletics Kenya (AK) boss, Isaiah Kiplagat, scoffed at the time when she was omitted from the London party despite a huge clamour to have the 2006 Commonwealth 5,000m bronze winner included.

A gentleman’s agreement between the runner, her management and AK saw Kabuu decline an invite for the London Marathon last year to compete for her nation at the World Championships in Moscow where it all went belly up after running 2:44:06 to finish 24th.

“On the eve of the race, she ate nothing because the food there did not go down well with her. She decided to give it a go but without energy, she fell back but she hang on to finish,” her spouse, Josphat Maina, told Capital Sport on Wednesday.

“I will do my best since I have prepared well for this. Last year, I was disappointed about what happened because I believed I had a good chance to bring something for my country but it was not to be. The rest I leave it to God,” Kabuu said ahead of the team’s departure on Wednesday night.

Having stuttered in Moscow, she heads to Copenhagen as the figure head of a loaded Kenyan team that has been tipped to run away with both individual and team honours on Saturday in the women’s race.

While the dominance of Kenya’s women at these championships does not quite match that of their men, and having failed to live up to their billing of favourites two years ago in the Bulgarian city of Kavarna, they have nevertheless been the best-performing nation over the past 20 years, amassing five individual wins – including a Tegla Loroupe hat-trick from 1997-99 – and eight team victories.

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Kabuu, whose 1:06.09 personal best in Ras Al Khaimah last year made her the fastest woman on a record legal half-marathon course in 2013 and joint sixth on the all-time listings is the one to watch out for.

She looks more than ready to reclaim the honours from their perennial rivals Ethiopia, who virtually cleaned up at the last running of these Championships in Bulgaria, taking the team title and the individual gold and silver.

Neither the champion nor the silver medallist of 2012, Meseret Hailu and Feyse Tadese, will be in Copenhagen but even if they were it is hard to see them withstanding the renewed onslaught of the Kenyans, despite the fact that they will be without the services of Florence Kiplagat, who set a world half marathon record (pending ratification) of 1:05.12 in Barcelona last month.

Following her switch to the roads in 2011, she has won all but one of her five half marathons, earning victories at the Great North Run and the Delhi Half Marathon, but this will be her first appearance at the World Half.

Kabuu is joined by the 2013 World Championships 10,000m silver medallist Gladys Cherono, who set a personal best of 1:06:48 in winning at Prague last year.

Mary Wacera Ngugi has a personal best of 1:10.32, but that could be due to revision following her recent win at the World’s Best 10k in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where she finished more than a minute clear of a top class field which included Cherono in a time of 32:06, a personal best by almost two minutes.

Kenya can also call upon World Championships 10,000m finalist Sally Chepyego, who is based in Japan and won their effective national trials for these championships, the Okayama Half Marathon on Christmas Eve last year, in 1:08.24.

The fifth and last runner, Mercy Jerotich Kibarus, who has stepped up from the reserve position to replace Kiplagat, has a personal best of 1:08:18.

Given those statistics, it is hard to see either the Ethiopians, or what looks like a hugely consistent Japanese team, matching Kenya.

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Ethiopia’s effort looks like being headed by Netsanet Kebede, the 23-year-old who finished third in this month’s Rome-Ostia Half Marathon in 1:08.53, and 22-year-old Genet Yalew, 2011 World Cross Country Championships junior women’s silver medallist and winner of last month’s national trial in Addis Ababa, where she clocked 1:10.58 on her debut at the distance.

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