NAIROBI, August 18 – Team Kenya sounded the war drums as the first contingent departed Monday night for the IAAF World Championships in Athletics that start on Saturday at the iconic Bird’s Nest in Beijing.
The decorated team saw the men clad in sky blue casual embroidered shirts and black trousers as their female counterparts looked resplendent in pale yellow dress and black blazers, flew out at 10pm local time (+3GMT) and are expected to connect to Beijing from Guangzhou.
But before they checked-in the stellar cast took time to underline their mission once they land in a country they have made history previously with record holder, Dennis Kimetto asserting the men’s marathon team has what it takes to reclaim the title last won by two-time champion, Abel Kirui.
The marathoners will launch Team Kenya’s medal chase from 2:35pm local time (7:35am in Beijing) on the opening day hoping to lay a sound marker for the rest of the nine-day event.
Kimetto, the 2:02:58 standard bearer over the ultimate distance declared at Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport when the advance team of 39 athletes and 16 officials departed for China, they were ready to dethrone Uganda’s Stephen Kiprotich who snatched the title held by Kenya since the 2007 edition in Osaka.
The Berlin and Chicago champion will partner with predecessor as record holder and training partner, Wilson Kipsang and Paris Marathon king Mark Korir in the 42.196km race final before the men’s 10,000m final takes canter stage.
“We have prepared well and thank God for enabling us to reach this day. We are expecting to bring Gold.
I’m sure we will reclaim the title because training has been good. Kiprotich (Stephen) and Ethiopians are our major threat but we are ready for the battle. We are targeting a podium sweep. I tell Kenyans to pray for us,” Kimetto, who alongside his colleagues has been training in Iten, stated.
World Cross gold and silver winners, Geoffrey Kipsang Kamworor and Bedan Karoki return to China where they ran to the 1-2 in the senior men 12km final in Guiyang in March and will team up with Worlds 10,000m bronze medallist, Paul Tanui in the latest attempt to dethrone British double world champion, Mo Farah in the other medal showdown of Day 1.
Assistant team captain and 2011 distance double world champion, Vivian Cheruiyot, declared they are ready to shine at the biennial showpiece where she will be making a comeback after her return to maternity leave hoping to show son Allan Kiprono back at home what made her famous.
Cheruiyot, is personally looking forward to lead from the front and reclaim the women’s 10,000m title she last won at the 2011 edition in Daegu where she bagged a distance double.
She will team up with London Olympics silver medallist, Sally Kipyego and US-based Betsy Saina who will be making her debut for the Monday 25-lap race.
“The team is ready to compete and I know they are going to come back with medals. I urge Kenyans to pray for us because it’s a tough competition. I’m really happy to return to Beijing for the first time since 2008.
“I’m going to try my best, run my race and of cause win gold. We are going to assist each other together with Saina and Kipyego,” Cheruiyot, who was flanked by her spouse/ coach, Moses Kiplagat and son Allan, underscored as she returns to the city she won Olympics 5000m silver behind her archrival, Ethiopia’s Tirunesh Dibaba.
Defending women’s 800m women champion, Eunice Sum tempered expectation and stated her first target was to reach the finals besides her mentor and 2007 Osaka Worlds winner, Janeth Jepkosgei.
“I’m waiting to see what I will run in Beijing, I think there is a lot of pressure but I’m ready let see how it goes.
“She (Jepkosgei) really encourages me and especially when I see her still running I do two times what she does so I’m happy to run with her and our prayer is to reach the final then we will do team work. Championships are tough, I request Kenyans to pray for us,” the Moscow titleholder, Commonwealth and African champion underlined.
Head coach, Julius Kirwa stated his team’s mission in China is to better their 2013 performance at the last edition in Moscow where Kenya returned five gold, four silver and three bronze.
However, the coach anticipates a tough championship but was upbeat they will fight in all the events that they entered.
“Kenyans should expect the team to perform well when we arrive in Beijing because we are ready to represent the country. I can’t predict how many medals we will win but what I can say is that there is effort to fight in the all events. What we will get we will appreciate.”
Men’s 1500 team led by defending champion, Asbel Kiprop, men’s 5000m and women marathon team will travel to Beijing on Saturday and Monday respectively.
The team is led by Team Manager, Joseph Kinyua who is returning to the Chinese capital in a similar role for the third time after the 2006 World Junior Championships where Kenya won the overall title ahead of the hosts.
In 2008, the former Athletics Kenya (AK) honorary national treasurer took the athletics team for the Beijing Olympics and they returned with a record haul of six gold medals, four silver and four bronze.
Besides Cheruiyot, three-time men steeplechase champion and overall captain, Ezekiel Kemboi, former Olympics and world men steeplechase champion, Brimin Kipruto, former Olympics silver winner, Jepkosgei and women 5000m Trials champion, Viola Kibiwott will be running at the Bird’s Nest for the second time as seniors in Team Kenya having competed at the 2008 Beijing Games.
“To the city where I was baptized the name, ‘The pride of Africa’,” world record holder in 800m, David Rudisha posted in his official Twitter account with a picture taken inside the plane where he was sat next to Kemboi.
Rudisha, the Daegu Worlds and London Olympics two-lap champion is the only medallist from the team that won Kenya the overall title at the 2006 IAAF World Juniors with six gold, seven silver and two bronze medal in the Chinese capital to make the 2015 Worlds squad.
Having battered the competition and the clock to set the 1:40.91 world record at the London Olympics final, Rudisha missed Moscow with knee injury and the cloak of invincibility has deserted him in a season he has been beaten thrice so far.
However, deep within himself, he is hoping Beijing will once again rekindle the hunger in the sport where at 26, he is struggling to motivate himself for the next challenge having won it all before.