NAIROBI, Kenya, July 17 – At the last World Juniors in Barcelona, Kenya was beaten to the overall title by USA by a five-gold margin, the largest gap between the biggest rivals at the biennial event open to athletes aged 20 and below.
It is with this in mind that the squad for the 15th edition of the IAAF event left the country on Thursday evening with the sole mission of upstaging the hosts at their own backyard in Oregon.
This not about revenge, it is about restoring the country’s pride as the undisputed kings of athletics and in a statement of intent, they send their largest team ever for the event of 26 competitors.
A further invasion into ‘enemy’ territory sees the Kenyans carry sprinters to the event to challenge America’s supremacy over short distances.
Sounding the ‘war drum’ was none other than the man charged with surpassing the 13 medals they won in Barcelona, head coach, Andrew Maritim.
He has set the target of 10 gold medals that would have beaten the Americans who won 9 in Barcelona to top the global charts.
“We gave them necessary skills for the two weeks they were in camp and I’m optimistic each athlete is going for his or her Personal Best and eventually the world title.
“We have provided them the modern way of training knowing that in our team we have more sprinters than before so we are expecting medals from the short races unlike in Barcelona team that had no sprinters so that’s an area that will add advantage,” Maritim told Capital Sport before the team departed for Oregon.
Their two day journey to the battlefield was scheduled to take them through Accra, Ghana, Washington and then Portland from where they will take a two-hour trip to Oregon.
Kenya will first seek to defend her six titles from Barcelona with 3000m steeple chase champion Daisy Jepkemei returning for another bite at the golden cherry.
However, World Youth men 800m champion, Alfred Kipketer, who anchored the national 4x800m relay team to gold in Bahamas comes in as the most exciting prospect in the squad having spurned the chance to race at the Commonwealth Games to crown his progression as an age runner at the grandest stage.
The men 3000m steeple as well as the women 1500m and 3000m crowns vacated by Conseslus Kipruto, Faith Chepng’etich and Mercy Chebwogen, are also in Kenya’s hands.
“If we get some medals from the sprinters we will definitely have a memorable outing.
“We have been the world champions three times and we are going for the same,” the coach added.
Agnes Jebet Tirop who won a bronze in Barcelona, is another returnee seeking to ascend to the middle step of the podium after winning the Africa Cross title in March.
“We are ready for the competition and I’m going for gold this time, I have trained on how to beat our rivals, we do not fear anybody,” Jebet who will compete in the 5000m declared.
African junior 5000m champion, Moses Mukono is out to prove to critics wrong after failing to impress in Barcelona where he finished out of the medal bracket despite having a good outing in the local competitions.
The 19 year-old, African Cross champion is now targeting to win gold in Oregon and graduate to the senior in style just like her role model Chepng’etich.
“We are expecting to perform well especially after having good preparation, I want to win gold so that I can graduate to the seniors successfully in 5000m, I have posted good times in the Diamond League and many people will be monitoring me.
“I want that good transition from junior to senior like Chepnge’tich who is doing well at the moment. We are still the best despite Ethiopians being there we just need to maintain consistency and we shall be there,” Mukono told.
Captain Alex Sampao who was in the 4x400m team for the Bahamas World Relays will be going for her Personal Best as he targets to run 45 minutes in the 400m.
“So far I’m graduating gradually although I participated in the senior’s in 4×4 relay; I had to come back to junior to lay my foundation. I could have made it to the Commonwealth team but I wanted to take part in junior to develop properly.
“Last year I was in Ukraine for the World Youth Championship where I won bronze so coming this far, I’m feeling in good shape and if not at my peak them I’m almost there,” Sampao said.
“We are going to bring the medals, as sprinters we can also make it, its only that we lack proper training but coming from the relay that exposed me, I’m looking forward to winning my last medal in the junior ranks,” the team captain told Capital Sport.
World Youth 5000m champion Lilian Kasait has switched distances to the steeple and by humbling the defending champion in Nairobi, will be out for the same in Eugene.