Can Kamathi end King Paul's reign?
16 March 2000 - Newcomers to the Kenyan cross country teams are usually asked to make the pace in big races for the benefit of their better-known compatriots - witness Patrick Ivuti's selfless contribution in Belfast last year.
Nevertheless, Charles Kamathi may be excused this duty on his first appearance at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships because he is the one man who, many pundits feel, can challenge his compatriot Paul Tergat and bring his historic five-year streak of victories to an end.
Kamathi emerged from obscurity at the Brussels Golden League meeting last September and ran the world's fastest 10,000 of the year in 26:51.49, only his second outing at the distance.
This winter he has gone from strength-to-strength and beaten Tergat at both the Seville and Vilamoura IAAF Cross Challenge races and the 21-year-old policeman is relishing returning to the Portuguese circuit on Sunday.
"I am waiting for a dry, fast course and know I can do well in those conditions -- that was one of the reasons I beat Tergat in Seville, it was a course for me. So is Vilamoura I think," Kamathi said recently.
Like most Kenyan runners, Kamathi is loath to predict success but his confidence, buoyed by victories across the Iberian peninsula, is clear to see, even though he is still coming to terms with his new-found celebrity.
"Yes, it's difficult believe what has happened over the last few months. I knew I was running well last summer before Brussels but I did not expect to be so successful. Now I'm very happy but can
I win a gold medal? I don't want to say anything. Making the Kenyan team was hard enough."
Kamathi nearly failed to make the grade for Vilamoura because although he has swept all before him in European races this year, he could only place 13th in the all-important Kenyan trials last month and was only allowed to go to their traditional pre-world championship training camp as a 'wild-card'.
However, once in Embu he showed enough mettle to be selected as one of the six men who will pull on Kenyan vests for the men's 12-kms race on Sunday, his first race for his country. Kamathi now has police permission to be a full-time athlete but it was not always the case.
"I left school three years ago and tried to make it as a runner. I started training seriously but was doing odd jobs and living with my parents."
"Then in 1998 I was recruited by the Kenyan Police because they wanted to get a good athletics team together again. For many years they have been beaten in competitions by the Kenyan Armed
Forces teams but at one time they were the strongest," Kamathi said.
Athletics historians will remember that the legendary Kip Keino, gold medallist at both the 1968 and 1972 Olympics and now an International Olympic Committee member, was also a Kenyan policeman.
"One reason I didn't compete at cross-country last winter was that I was in police training college. Since then I have been allowed to train and race and concentrate on my running."
"But I have to continue to do races or else I will have to put on a uniform and go out on patrol! At least I don't think many criminals will get away from me if I have to chase them on foot!!" Kamathi added, with a grin.