EMBU, Kenya, Mar 9 – The Kenyan team to the 42nd IAAF World Cross Country Championship in Kampala on March 26 has vowed to reclaim the overall team title lost to Ethiopia during the last competition in Guiyang, China in 2015.
The team has been training at the high altitude Kigari Teachers College in Embu and they believe with slightly more than a fortnight left, they are on the way to attaining full fitness to perform well at the Kololo Independence Ground in Kampala.
“We have worked hard, trained well and now we are getting to the final bend. Everyone is looking forward to the championship and we promise we are going to get that team title back,” team captain Leonard Komon who won silver in the 2008 championships said.
However, he is aware of the fact there will be intense competition especially from the naturalized Kenyans running for Bahrain and the United States of America, but reckons the team is the best assembled in the last few years.
His sentiments were shared by vice captain Faith Kipyegon, also the reigning 1500m Olympic champion.
“I think none of us is preparing to go and lose. Everyone is looking forward to putting our best effort and as we are training, that is what is at the back of our minds. Above all, what will carry our strengths higher is the team work and that is one of the things we are working on,” Kipyegon who missed the Guiyang championship with injury added.
Kenya picked nine medals in Guiyang, finishing second behind Ethiopia who were on 11 medals. They also lost the team titles in both men and women senior races to the Ethiopians. The only team victory was in the junior men.
Kenya won gold in the men and women senior races with Geoffrey Kamworor and Agnes Tirop cutting the tape first. Both have vowed to defend their titles.
“We are running close to home and that should be an advantage to us. The team is looking really strong and that is one thing that encourages me. Personally, I want to defend the crown. I know it is not going to be easy, but I am ready and the remaining two weeks will be all about sharpening,” Kamworor noted.
“As the defending champion there is always pressure. But I know how to contain it and I am relaxed,” the World Half Marathon champion added.
– Barsoton out to upset big wigs –
Leonard Barsoton who won the national championship has vowed to take the same form to Kampala and hopes he will be able to topple Kamworor as king of the world.
Tirop on the other hand has not been in top shape since her conquest in Guiyang and she narrowly made it into the Kenyan team after finishing fifth in the national trials.
She believes her body is getting back to shape after shaking off injury and will be in a position to contest for a medal position.
“The work is ongoing and I am slowly getting back to shape. It has not been easy but all I want is to go out there, do my best and come back home with a medal,” Tirop opined.
Also, for the first time, the World Cross Country championships will witness the mixed relay. Kenya’s team will be anchored by the experienced three-time World 1500m champion Asbel Kiprop as well as Olympic bronze medalist over 800m Margaret Nyairera.
“It is very exciting especially the race being a mixed race. We are excited as a team and hopefully, we will be the first ever gold medalists. It is exciting also because the distance is short and you have to give your best. Bottom line, we will go there and enjoy ourselves,” Kiprop said.
Athletics Kenya is confident they have assembled a strong team and president Gen (Rtd) Jackson Tuwei is confident that the method of wiping out issuance of wild cards ensured an opportunity to present the strongest and on-form team.
“We noticed that it was demoralizing for the athletes who crossed the line in good positions and that’s why we scraped the wild cards.
This time we are confident we have put out a strong team because it is a process that started off in more than seven stages. I am confident we can get back the team title,” Tuwei offered.
The team is scheduled to leave for Kampala on March 24, but they have requested to be there at least five days to the championship to acclimatize and get used to the route.
“We want to train on those hills a bit far from the camp to build the endurance,” Kipyegon noted.
Kenyan team to Kampala
Senior men: Leonard Barsoton, Geoffrey Kamworor, Leonard Komon, Vincent Rono, Leonard Lagat, Nicholas Kosimbei.
Senior women: Irene Cheptai, Lilian Kasait, Faith Kipyegon, Alice Aprot, Agnes Tirop, Hyvin Kiyeng.
Junior men: Richard Kimunyan, Meshack Kiyunguti, Wesley Ledama, Edwin Kiplangat, Amos Kirui, Ronald Kirui.
Junior women: Sandrafelis Chebet, Celliphine Chespol, Sheila Chelang’at, Emmaculate Cheruiyot, Joyline Cherotich, Hellen Akalale.
Mixed relay: Absel Kiprop, Margaret Nyairera, Bernard Kipkorir, Mark Bett, Beatrice Chepkoech, Winfred Mbithe.