NAIROBI, Kenya, July 26- Kenya’s stars at the IAAF World U20 Championships have their long term targets fixed on the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan after graduating to seniors in a scintillating style.
The team that finished second in the just concluded 2016 edition in Bydgoszcz, Poland returned home on Tuesday to a heroic welcome and they beam in confidence they can translate their form into the senior level.
Kenya managed to win nine medals; five gold, two silver and two bronze with the highlight seeing fast rising star Kipyegon Bett leading compatriot Willy Tarbei to a 1-2 finish.
Speaking upon arrival at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport where they were received by Athletics Kenya officials, family and friends, 3000m steeplechase gold medallist Amos Kirui, believes the win in Bydgoszcz will inspire him to greater heights as he aims to continue Kenya’s dominance in the water and barrier race.
Parents and Relatives wait for athletes at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.PHOTO/Raymond Makhaya.
Kirui, who stunned favourite world youth champion Vincent Kipyegon has set his sights on inheriting the steeplechase crown from Kenya’s great in the event Ezekiel Kemboi who is set to run his final Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
“I believe I have what it takes to take over the crown from him because he is one of the people who have been encouraging me. He is like a role model to me and after winning in Cali and now Poland, I know I can make it in the seniors as well,” Kirui uttered.
The 19-year-old ran a world junior lead time of 8:20.23, while his compatriot Kipyegon faded off in the final 50 meters, allowing Eritrea’s Yemane Haileselassie and Ethiopia’s Getnet Wale to beat him to silver and bronze respectively.
“It was very unfortunate we couldn’t win two medals but personally, I had to work hard and bring home the gold because this is a Kenyan race and we can’t let the top medal go. But it was a very tough race,” Kirui said.
Kenya also won the corresponding women’s race after Celliphine Chespol powered home in a championship record time of 9:25.15.
Just like Kirui, the shy, soft-spoken Chespol, also a World Youth Champion wants to register her name as one of the greats in the race as she aims at taking after her idol, Hyvin Kiyeng.
“Last year I won in Cali in the Youth Championship, then this year again I won in Poland. This is something very good for me because I want to be a World and Olympic champion. The big task is to ensure I continue from here,” she said.
In the men’s 800m, it was a sweet victory for Kipyegon Bett ,who clocked his season best of 1:44.95 to beat compatriot Willy Tarbei to avenge the loss he suffered at the World Youth Championships last year.
Bett says training with revered senior 800m athlete Ferguson Rotich prepared him well for the big stage and he believes he has matured enough to tackle the big boys that includes Olympic and world-record holder David Rudisha who is one of his role models.
“Right now, I am looking at the World Championships next year and then the Olympics as my big targets. It’s something achievable because I feel ready to tackle the big stage. Ferguson has really helped me in training and running besides him was motivation enough for me to go and do well in Bydgoszcz,” said the 19-year old.
At the same time, 10,000m champion Rodgers Kwemoi has revealed training in Japan played a huge role in helping him ease to victory in Poland.
Kwemoi produced superb speed, endurance and tact to set a championship record in Bydgoszcz, winning the race in 27:25.23 on the way to leading all the top six finishers to setting new Personal Bests.
“I think it (Japan) played a big role for me. In Japan, we do interval short speed training at least three times a day and not much of long distance running. That has helped me build my endurance and finishing kick. It was my first time winning a gold medal and I feel really happy. I want to carry on in the same form,” he says.
-Taki’s golden dive-
Meanwhile, Kumari Taki, who dived at the finish line to win the 1500m race ahead of Ethiopia’s Taresa Tolosa and compatriot Anthony Kiptoo, has re-lived those moments at the Zdzisław Krzyszkowiak Stadium saying he had no option left.
“I looked at the big screen and saw the Ethiopian had gone past Kiptoo and I knew he was coming for me. I had to throw myself in because if I didn’t do that, then I would have not won the gold. It was a good tactic,” Taki who hails from the Mau region in Narok County stated.
Taki, who also won the Youth championship title believes there’s a lot he still has to work on as he aims to improve.
“I have run a world challenge race this year with the seniors and I think that is what gave me some experience to go all the way because the races were really tough in Poland. I have to go back and train harder because next year I want to fight for a place in the World Championships and ultimately, my target is to be in the 2020 Olympics,” Taki added.
Whilst congratulating the team for their performance in Poland, Athletics Kenya has taken up the challenge of ensuring the talented athletes transit smoothly to the senior ranks.
“We have lost some of them along the way in the past, but this year we want to ensure we get hold of them and lead them well because that is what has been lacking. There is a lot of talent here and we can’t manage to let it go,” AK president – Lt. Gen (Rtd) Jackson Tuwei affirmed.
The team was hosted for a luncheon by the Cabinet Secretary for Sports, Arts and Culture Hassan Wario at a Nairobi hotel after their arrival.