Nairobi, KenyaJohn Cheruiyot Korir, the reigning Kenyan long course (12km) champion, has not only his fellow Armed Forces colleagues to worry about but also a new hungry generation of runners, as he sets out to defend his title tomorrow (Friday 13 Feb) at the national championships and World Cross trials at the Ngony race course. The meeting is also the Kenyan leg of the IAAF permit international cross country series.
Korir realised just how race rusty he had become in a space of just two months of no competition when he was unexpectedly beaten into second place by former five-time World Cross Country champion Paul Tergat at the 24th Armed Forces Championships last month. It was an event which was equally disappointing for Patrick Ivuti, twice World Cross silver medallist, who finished seventh.
However, the greater worry for Korir came when results from the provincial championships started trickling in during the last two weeks, as he realised that the pool of fine Kenyan running talent was widening each year. For instance, both the reigning World 5000m champion Eluid Kipchoge and Richard Limo who he succeeded to that track title, were beaten in the North Rift championships by Isaac Songok, the former World Youth 1500m champion.
So Korir is more than realistic that finishing among the top six in the extremely deep field of running talent wouldn't be an easy task tomorrow.
Korir has the option of employing team tactics with colleagues such as Paul Koech, Ivuti and Wilberforce Talel, as a member of an awesome Armed Forces team, and confirmed “I have regained my form since the Armed Forces (championships)."
However, with Kipchoge the reigning World Junior cross country champion now contesting the senior division, and with 2001 World 10,000m champion Charles Kamathi, Boston Marathon champion Robert Cheruiyot, Abraham Chebii and Richard Limo also in the line up, there is an enormous brigade of talent to contend with in both the short and long races on Nairobi’s Ngony race course tomorrow.
Also following current rains, the course with a soft surface and mud in some section will make this “the toughest nationals to date," said Korir. He has also had some personal problems to content this winter which have been part of the reason for this recent dip in form. "I had a lot of family problems through out December which is also why I did not do well in the Armed Forces championships."
The national championships brings the national cross country season to a breathtaking close after 15 high profile meetings between October and February. However, no one runner as shine throughout the season as in previous years and so the betting as to who will prevail at the championships is wide open.
Women’s races -
Indefatigable Leah Malot is not about to relent in her quest for greatness in the women’s long course race. She won the final Athletics Kenya weekend meeting last month. With some of Kenya's best women still having failed to find a balance between track, cross and marathon running, she is the outright favourite for the title.
World Marathon champion Catherine Ndereba leads a strong Prisons’ team challenge together with New York Marathon champion Margaret Okayo, Alice Timbilil, and Susan Chepkemei among others.
Double World Cross Country short course champion Edith Masai, said she has a date with destiny in Brussels for the next World championships, so going past the hurdle of the nationals is not a big deal.
At 37, the oldest Kenyan runner in the international circuit, Masai will be challenged by Margaret Ngotho, 2000 World Junior champion Vivian Cheruiyot, and Peninah Chechumba.
After the national championships, a World Cross squad will be selected which will then proceed for a one month residential training camp at high altitude at Embu, just north of the capital.