NAIROBI, December 21- There is something enchanting about Kenyan athletes running in the Asian sub-continent and this year was no different when the Chinese cities of Guiyang and Beijing hosted the IAAF World Cross in the winter and summer IAAF World Championships.
Once again, the red, green and black-stripped athletes raced to glory at the part of the world they have enjoyed unparalleled success over the years.
The tradition of excellence in Asia started at the 1988 Seoul Olympics where the nation’s athletes won 4 gold (Paul Ereng, Peter Rono, Julius Kariuki and John Ngugi), 2 silver (Douglas Wakiihuri, Peter Koech) and a bronze (Kipkemboi Kimeli).
Boxers, the late Robert Wangila Napunyi (gold) and Chris Sande (bronze) added to the country’s total tally of 5 gold, 2 silver and two bronze.
At the IAAF World Championships in Nagai Stadium in Osaka, Japan in 2007, Kenyan runners finished second behind USA in the overall stadings after winning five gold (Janeth Jepkosgei, Alfred Kirwa, Brimin Kipruto, Catherine Ndereba and Luke Kibet), three silver (Ezekiel Kemboi, Vivian Cheruiyot, Eliud Kipchoge) and five bronze (Richard Mateelong, Martin Mathathi, Shadrack Kibet, Eunice Jepkorir and Priscah Jepkorir).
Four years later, they returned to Daegu, South Korea for the biennial IAAF track and field where a record medal tally of seven gold, six silver and four bronze were won with David Rudisha, a Cheruiyot double, Abel Kirui, Ezekiel Kemboi, Asbel Kiprop and Edna Kiplagat taking the top medals.
So, when Beijing hosted the 2015 IAAF World Championships, expectations were high Kenyans would make an impression but no one prepared the world for what unfolded next.
The sport and Kenya in particular, was thrown into turmoil on August 1 when the country held its Trials for Beijing when an explosive German TV ARD documentary cited the nation as a hot spot for doping.
“The timing of the release of the documentary is very suspect, especially when we are holding our Trials. They want all our athletes to be suspect but I hope this will not affect our runners,” suspended Athletics Kenya vice-president, David Okeyo, said at the time.
The doping ghosts would haunt Team Kenya in Beijing when two sprinters, Francesca Koki Manunga and Joy Zakari tested positive and were later handed four-year bans for Furosemide following tests conducted at the team hotel.
The rest of the team fashioned the most emphatic of responses when for the first time in history, Kenya topped the world charts with seven gold, six silver and three bronze medals to beat powerhouses Jamaica and USA to second and third.
“Our young people have once again shown that they are as good as the world’s best and brightest,” President Uhuru Kenyatta Tweeted after Kiprop closed the gold medal rush by becoming the first from his nation to be a three-time men 1500m champion.
Living steeplechase legend, Kemboi and Cheruiyot rose to become the pioneering four-time Kenyan world champions whilst Rudisha scaled the middle step of the podium for the first time since 2011 after two injury-ravaged seasons.
Hyvin Kiyeng, the rank underdog stunned a loaded field to become Kenya’s second female steeplechase world champion but it was the performances of Nicholas Bett and Julius Yego that re-defined the country’s history in the sport.
Running from lane nine, Bett surprised even himself when he won the 400m Hurdles final to bring the first ever individual sprint gold home.
All plaudits however, belonged to ‘You Tube Man’ Yego who threw the third furthest throw of all time, a 92.72m monster effort that also accounted for an African record to become the continent’s and nation’s first field champion.
“It’s really unbelievable,” Yego, 26, said. “I’m happy. I’ve won a gold medal for Kenya. Very few athletes have done what I have done. It is not easy.”
The platform to Beijing glory was opened on March 28 when Team Kenya conquered the world at the Guiyang World Cross in Southern China.
It all did not start according to plan when Ethiopian Gidey Letesenbet led compatriots Dera Dida and Etagegn Woldu to the podium sweep in the junior 8km women’s race for the team honours.
Their countryman, Yasin Haji then beat a quartet of Kenyans to the individual gold in the corresponding men 8km junior race. Kenya did bag the team title though.
With panic sweeping head coach David Letting and his assistant faces, teenager Agnes Tirop, then 19, showed bravely beyond her years when she trounced a deep field for gold in the women senior 8km race after the withdraw of favourite, Faith Chepng’etich due to injury and indifferent form of two-time winner, Emily Chebet who was later banned for four years for doping.
“Although it is my first championship at the senior level it was not a very big challenge. The course is very good,” she said as Ethiopia took the team title.
The stage was set for World Half Marathon champion, Geoffrey Kamworor and compatriot Bedan Karoki to give the world a superior display of team running as they brought home the Holy Grail of the World Cross by completing the 1-2 in the signature senior men 12km race.
“It is a very tough race and the course is very difficult but I’ve done well. We are together with my teammates. We are working as a team and we did it. I also hope to go to Beijing in August,” Kamworor said at the time before returning to Beijing to chase Britain’s Mo Farah all the way to the line for silver in 10,000m.
“We worked as a team and we have made it, so I’m very happy to get a medal. I have participated at the Olympics and World Championships but I had never won a medal. But today, because I got the silver medal, I’m very happy,” Karoki, who finished just outside the medals in Beijing added.
By capturing the team title ahead of Ethiopia, Kenya were crowned the overall winners of the Guiyang World Cross.