A record 275 of Kenya's best runners file into the Ngong race course, Nairobi on Saturday (24) in one of the toughest national trials for the 35th IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Mombasa next month.
Only 35 will proceed to the residential training camp in Embu on Tuesday next week. New emerging runners, many of them coming of age this season, are likely to cause upsets in traditional Kenya fashion.
Will Wanjiru set the tone?
The form of the new World Half Marathon record breaker* Samuel Kamau Wanjiru is a signal to others to expect stiff competition. He is among a half dozen Kenyan athletes based in Japan determined to extend their domination home. The other is Martin Mathathi, bronze medallist in last year's championships and Gideon Ngatuny who finished second behind Richard Matelong in the national championships in Mombasa early this month. Abraham Chebii, second to Kenenisa Bekele over the short course race at the 2005 championships and Moses Mosop, a bronze medallist at the World championships in the 10,000m, are among the prominent athletes returning to serious competition after a "lean" 2006 when global competition was low.
The old guards like John Kibowen (twice World champion in the short course race), former world 5000m champion Eliud Kipchoge, Africa junior 5000 and 10,000m champion Moses Masai and North Rift provincials winner Hosea Macharinyang will be fighting to maintain their honour. The world junior championships silver medallist at 10,000m Joseph Ebuya makes a debut in senior competition with the purpose of improving on a fourth position in last year's championships as a junior. Armed Forces champion William Chebon, Thomas Longosiwa, Gideon Ngatuny and Boaz Mayaka among many are new discoveries of the season.
Some of the prominent stars in attendance on the women's side include Commonwealth 10,000m champion Lucy Wangui, who was followed by Everlyn Wambui in Melbourne, and Hellen Musyoki, second to Lorna Kiplagat and Frida Domongole in the Kenya nationals two weeks ago.
Surprises in store in the junior races?
World junior champion Pauline Korikwiang renews her rivalry with the Beijing World Junior 3000m gold medallist Veronica Nyaruai. Nyaruai has been inactive throughout the season and many of her rivals will be waiting to see her shape since she shifted from Nyahururu to Kenya's epicentre of running in Eldoret.
Injury has ruled out world champion Mangata Ndiwa in the men's junior contest but the field is still teeming with unknown quality, making it impossible to predict. But going by past results Samuel Ndung'u who won three straight weekend meetings last year is tipped to win. But this will not be easy as national champion Vincent Kiprop Abel Kiprop and Vincent Yator among others will be in attendance.
Peter Njenga (Daily Nation) for the IAAF
*subject to ratification