NAIROBI, Kenya, May 28- Losing the women 4x800m title to America at the inaugural IAAF World Relays left a sour taste in Kenya’s mouth as the triumphant squad returned from Bahamas to a rousing reception.
A huge welcome party was accorded to the 16 athletes who returned to the country at Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport on Monday night and on Tuesday when they were hosted at Athletics Kenya (AK) headquarters in the capital.
The team that was missing some of its stars such as world champions Asbel Kiprop and Eunice Sum as well as Worlds medallists Mercy Cherono and Hellen Obiri among others who will race in Saturday’s Prefontaine Classic IAAF Diamond League meeting in Oregon earned plaudits for winning three gold medals and setting world records in both men and women 4x1500m events.
However, missing the chance to overhaul Jamaica in second place in the overall standings behind powerhouses USA left head coach, Sammy Rono, smarting after the fancied Kenyans lost the women 4x800m honours to the Americans who raided their stronghold and ran away with the honours.
USA completed a wire-to-wire victory in an event record of 8:01.58 as the Kenyans who had reigning World champion, Eunice Sum and the 2007 titleholder, Janeth Jepkosgei in their ranks secured silver in a national record of 8:04.28.
“I lost one medal that I did not want to lose because we strategised well. We wanted to slow the first and second laps and that is why we used our junior runners to start before putting in our senior runners to finish because we knew the Americans were there.
“They put their strong ones to start and they pushed the pace so hard,” Rono told reporters.
World indoor champion Chanelle Price gave the USA a lead of more than 10 metres on the first leg in 2:01.00 before the baton changed to Geena Lara who was ran close by Kenya’s Sylvia Chesebe and Mexico’s Cristina Guevara.
World junior champion Ajee Wilson ran a 1:59.10 split to pull clear of Jepkosgei and by the time Sum came for the last leg, world bronze medallist Brenda Martinez maintained the advantage to hand her nation a stunning upset win.
Apart from the established distance stars, Bahamas gave the long suffering Kenyan sprinters their moment to test their might against established powers of USA and Jamaica.
An African record in the men’s 4x200m of 1:22.35 was achieved by the quartet of Stephen Barasa; US based Carvin Nkanata, Tony Chirchir and Walter Moenga who finished fifth in the final.
“We were praying and hoping for a national record but breaking the African record was a big win for us. We are going to take sprinters to where they belong but people run out there,” Moenga noted.
AK were quick to lavish praise on the squad they had ironically, initially omitted from the Bahamas line-up after the Kenya Trials last month only to include them after pressure from local media.
“There is hope for our short distance runners. To become number five in the whole world is a huge achievement and we will continue encouraging them,” AK vice-president, David Okeyo, who led the Bahamas delegation, deadpanned.
Kenya finished third on 35 points behind USA (60) and Jamaica (41) riding on the back of their distance running excellence.
Their women 4x1500m quartet of Cherono, Faith Chepng’etich, Irene Jelagat and Obiri slashed their own previous world record by a staggering 32 seconds for gold in 16:33.58.
The corresponding men’s squad produced another all time best of 14:22.22 as Collins Cheboi, James Magut, Commonwealth champion, Silas Kiplagat and world titleholder Kiprop scorched the track to shave 14 seconds off the previous best.
Kenya’s gold hunt was started by the men 4x800m squad of Ferguson Rotich, Sammy Kirongo, Job Kinyor and Alfred Keter, the World Youth champion who won gold in 7:08.40 but they failed to get near the 7:02.43 world record set by their compatriots in 2006.