NAIROBI, August 23- For the first time in history, Kenya will have two athletes in Tuesday’s men 400m Hurdles final at the IAAF World Championships after Boniface Mucheru and Nicholas Bett continued their stunning progress in Beijing on Sunday by punching automatic tickets to the medal race.
The possibility of a first ever medal at the short distance event is real for a country more famous for distance running excellence with Mucheru and Bett looking good value against American hurdlers who have dominated the season.
It will be the first edition since Stuttgart 1993 when Eric Keter and Barnabas Kinyor, father to African Games bound 800m runner, Job Kinyor, made the finals that Kenya will be represented at the high hurdles lap-race.
No matter the outcome, it was still a milestone for the country after having three hurdlers in the semis although Haron Koech’s run came to an end after finishing seventh in his heat.
Mucheru, running with the unfamiliar name of Tumuti in his bib, was only 0.06 seconds away from shattering the national 400m Hurdles record that has stood from the 1993 Worlds when he pulled away for a surprising win in the first semi.
The Kenya champion looked like he had so much to spare as he almost erased Keter’s 22 year-old national record when he left USA’s 2007 and 2009 world champion, Kerron Clement off the final barrier for victory in 48.29.
“I have improved a lot especially in the seventh and eighth hurdle and we want medals in the final,” Mucheru, the Kenya Defence Forces runner said after his monumental achievement after beating his 48.79 PB from the Heats on Saturday.
Clement hung on to finish second and secure his fifth world championships final appearance in 48.50.
A little bit of American pride was restored when 2013 silver medallist Michael Tinsley won the third heat in 48.47, visibly gritting his teeth over the final two hurdles as he held off the long-striding but slightly less technically proficient Bett on the run in over the final 30 metres, although the Kenyan finished second in 48.54 and also made the final.
“The race went according to plan though I miscalculated in the fourth and fifth hurdles. Now that two of us are in the finals, our target is two medals,” Bett who trains under the management of Hinne Kozy in Finland underscored adding they would go and plan for the big race.
For Koech, all was not lost after his immense talent saw him added to Kozy’s stable.
“I already have the Olympics qualifying time and I want to improve on my weaknesses,” the Kenya Police Service officer who has been training alone at the Safaricom Stadium in Nairobi told reporters at the Mixed Zone.
The second heat saw the field very evenly matched through to hurdle eight before USA’s Johnny Dutch featured off the bend.
However, the American tired badly off the final hurdle and went backwards just as Russia’s 2014 European championships bronze medallist Denis Kudryavtsev started to go through the gears, coming home in a big personal best of 48.23.
The Bahamas’ Jeffrey Gibson followed him home in a national record of 48.37.
Behind the pair who qualified automatically, in a close battle for second place, Poland’s Patryk Dobek got a personal best of 48.40 while Turkey’s Yasmani Copello set his second successive national record in Beijing with 48.46, and both men were to eventually progress as fastest non-automatic qualifiers after finishing third and fourth respectively.