ELDORET, May 22- For decades, runners from the talent rich Rift Valley region have scorched tartan tracks across the globe but on Friday, a milestone was celebrated when their self proclaimed capital, Eldoret hosted world-beaters in the refurbished Dr. Kipchoge Keino Stadium.
With excitement running through the expansive town and the entire region for days, Friday marked the first time in history runners have ran on a tartan track in Eldoret and a mammoth crowd was on hand to witness the beginning of a era.
For years, retired and active distance running great had campaigned, begged and even offered to finance the laying of a tartan in Eldoret and after a scandal ridden process that took about five years.
The Government finally delivered with the final 2015 Athletics Kenya National Track and Field Series meeting fittingly launching a new chapter in Kenya’s athletics.
Athletics royalty, past and present were in full force as they got a chance to finally perform their act in front of their adoring republic in a town where runners enjoy fanatical support and everything stops when big events are on.
Sports Secretary Japhter Rugut, AK officials and Sports Kenya chairman, Fred Muteti led world beating stars –among them Dr Kipchoge Keino, the retired legend who lent his name to the facility, London Marathon winner Eliud Kipchoge and former Olympic 3,000m steeplechase champion Brimin Kipruto –in an exciting lap of honour.
Sports Kenya will soon hand over the new-look facility to the County Government of Uasin Gishu.
Former Africa 1,500m champion Harun Keitany and All Africa Games and 3,000m steeplechase champion Willy Komen were the notable returnees to the action after a long spell in the sidelines with injury.
Over 3,000 runners who turned up put the shade on any event outside the Olympics and World Championships since no one could afford to miss the moment.
-Kiprop breaks soil record-
On the track, the soil record in 1500m ran by Nixon Chepseba of 3:37.5 in 2010 was shattered by non other than two-time world champion, Asbel Kiprop who won his heat in 3:36.9 to lay the marker for Saturday’s final.
“I am happy to have broken Chepseba’s stadium record. But, more importantly, is that I want to make the team to the World Championships and become the first Kenyan to be a three-time world champion. I am sure, if I make it, that will take another athlete a big effort to attain it,” the Daegu and Moscow world titleholder told.
Kiprop, who missed the world 1,500m record at last year’s Diamond League meet in Monaco last year, is keen to retain his crown at the IAAF World Championships in Beijing for his treble, the first Kenyan in history to achieve the landmark if he is successful.
He will compete at the IAAF World Challenge in Ostrava, Czech
Republic, in 1500m before heading to Eugene, Oregon, to line up in the one mile at the third leg of the IAAF Diamond League meeting.
“The Mondo tartan is soft and fast but the altitude here (2100m above sea level) is a challenge. The final will be no easy,”he added.
Kiprop will vie for the honours against fast rising Bahamas Medley Relay silver medallist, Timothy Cheruiyot who took command of his heat to win in 3:44.1 with circuit racer Abednego Chesebe who returned 3:44.6 also in with a huge shout for the medals.
Commonwealth Games champions and World 5,000m silver medalist Mercy Cherono underlined her credentials when she won her 1500m heat in 4:21.31 to the joy of the crowd.
“I have not competed but I love the tartan here. This is what will
make us prepare well for the world championships,” Cherono added.
Robert Kaptingei (3:49.3), a younger brother of former world junior champion Bernard Kaptingei, Hosea Cheronyei (3:45.1) and Gerald Vincent (3:47.0) are designated dark horses in the decider.
The corresponding women’s final will feature Commonwealth champion and Worlds 5,000m silver medallist Mercy Cherono, who won her preliminary race in 4:21.31 putting her reputation on the line against new sensation Nancy Jepkemboi (4:21.4) and World Cross senior women champion Agnes Tirop (4:24.3).
Caroline Jemutai (4:30.1), Jane Wanjiru (5:10.0) and Hellen Chepkurui (4:51.9) are others are other contenders in another showdown expected to illuminate the red tartan at Eldoret.
In another women 1500m heat, Joyline Koima (4:25.5), the East Africa Secondary Schools champion showed IAAF Diamond League Doha meeting surprise winner, Virginia Nyambura (4:25.6) a clean pair of heels as both made the medal race.
Entries were too huge such that the 10,000m race, usually a straight finals in almost all events, was split into three heats with winners decided on best times.
Little-known Emmanuel Kipsang prevailed over marathon superstars to etch his name in the lights during the men 10,000m decider in a finish that brought the crowd, among them a litany of who is who in distance running, to their feet.
Kipsang crossed the line ahead of two-time New York Marathon winner Geoffrey Mutai and former Milan half marathon winner Mathew Kisorio to chalk up men’s heat in a commendable 28:26.2 bearing in mind the punishing altitude.
Mutai, who dropped off from London Marathon last month, was forced to silver in 29:06.1 with Kisorio completing the podium in 29:06.2 as Barnabas Kosgei (29:28.8), Philip Kiprop (29:58.4) and Patrick Ngwatu (30:12.1) trailed each other across the line to round the top six.