Without competition for places in the now biennial IAAF World Cross Country Championships, Saturday’s KCB/AK National Cross Country Championships at Nairobi’s Uhuru Gardens has been disrobed of its lustre.
However, the showdown will be the selection decider for next month’s CAA Africa Cross Country Championships, the continental event re-established last year to fill the gap between World Cross editions.
Despite the setbacks, cross running enthusiasts stand to be in for a treat with imposing line-ups from institutional and other AK affiliates across the four runs on the menu.
New titleholders will be crowned by the close of action with defending holders, Boston and New York Marathon winner Geoffrey Mutai and triple World gold medallist Vivian Cheruiyot who were listed in the Kenya Police starting roster missing in action.
Men’s winner Mutai reportedly withdrew from the start at Friday’s Ras-Al-Khaimah Half in the UAE with a sore foot while Cheruiyot is back in the country after a bout of flu saw her pull out of the Avica Indoor Grand Prix in Birmingham.
“She has now received medication and she is recovering well but she could not race tomorrow but she will be there to cheer on the runners,” spouse Moses Kiplagat confirmed.
In their absence the men’s 12km long race will witness a pitch battle for top honours with new Police recruit, the World Cross junior champion, Geoffrey Kipsang Kamworor, in the frame for a resounding transition to senior ranks as he attempts to keep the diadem locked up in the force’s rocker.
He will come head to head with another fresh Police rookie and the junior winner here last year, Isaiah Kiplangat Koech who recently placed second over 3000m at the Lievin Indoor meeting in Lievin, France.
Punta Umbria fourth finisher, Matthew Kisorio, Philemon Limo who placed seventh and 2006 winner, Moses Masai complete the Police line-up.
Archrivals Kenya Defence Forces have the ageless Mark Kiptoo who captained Kenya to the Edinburgh World Cross, the 2007 World Cross silver winner, Vincent Kiprop, William Chebon, Michael Chege and John Chepkwony, the 2009 World Junior champion in the men’s 12km run in the running for top honours.
Africa Cross senior men champion, John Mwangangi will spearhead the Kenya Prisons squad with Daegu Worlds 10,000m finalist, Peter Kirui holding fort in the Administration Police squad.
In the women’s 8km run, Linet Masai who was dethroned by Cheruiyot last year stands head and shoulders above the competition on paper owing to her cross running pedigree but faces a stern test from Lucy Kabuu, the winner of the Police XC Championships.
Kabuu who breezed to a 2:19:34 marathon performance in Dubai brings a rich vein of form in the Police gang that has Africa Cross champion, Mercy Cherono, Daegu silver winner, Sylvia Kibet, World marathon champion, Edna Kiplagat and Bydgoszcz World Cross sixth finisher, Margaret Wangari providing the internal competition.
Daegu and Boston marathons bronze winner, Sharon Cherop and former World Cross junior silver winner, Veronica Nyaruai are the studs in the Defence Forces squad with 2010 World Cross winner, Emily Chebet and Daegu 10,000m bronze winner, Priscah Jepleting the star banners in the Admin Police ranks.
Rotterdam marathon winner, Philes Ongori (Nyanza South) and new sensation Phanacier Chemutai (North Rift), a star of the KCB/AK series meetings are others to watch.
Last year’s women 6km winner, Janet Kisia returns to defend her title against an onslaught led by the World Cross gold medallist, Faith Chepng’etich (South Rift) and Africa Cross champion, Caroline Chepkoech, the younger sister of Cherono.
In the men’s 8km race, World Youth titleholder, William Sitonik Malel lines-up for another clash with Bydgoszcz World Cross bronze winner Japheth Korir who won the NG Eurocross in Diekirch (Luxemburg) last week in the highlight clash.
Six athletes in all races on the cards will be selected to compete for their country in South Africa with those accepting the call-ups set to be confirmed in the team.
After weeks of oven hot sunshine, overcast weather has started descending in Nairobi with temperate condition forecast for the race.
The race for the KCB/AK Series jackpot where four athletes stand the chance to share the Sh1m ($12,195) will be also be decided.
Mutwiri Mutuota (Capital FM) for IAAF