NairobiTwentyyearold Police recruit Sammy Kitwara will face his most anticipated moment when he lines up at the Kenyan National Cross Country Championships on Saturday.
The lanky athlete from the Marakwet Hills in the North Rift athletics bread basket has dominated the local circuit which was, however, severely interrupted by the vicious post-elections violence following President Kibaki’s disputed re-election.
His main rivals will most likely be Gideon Ngatunyi, who was fourth in last year’s World Cross Country Championships in Mombasa, and a former World junior bronze medallist, Barnabas Koskei. All will work hard to get into the team for the World Cross Country Championships to be held in Edinburgh, Scotland, on 29 March.
A very strong contingent is expected from the North Rift Valley, which is Kenya’s bastion of distance running.
Although they dropped out of the provincial championships two weeks ago, Commonwealth 5000 metres champion Augustine Choge and former 4km silver medallist Isaac Songok will try their luck again at the Nationals, which will also be an IAAF Permit Meeting and Kenya’s trials for World cross.
Asbel Kiprop, who won the 12km race at the North Rift trials, has declined to run at the Nationals, saying he will concentrate on the track with Beijing Olympics firmly in his plans for the year.
But the team includes last year’s World cross-country fourth-placed Hosea Macharinyang, Joseph Kitur, Thomas Naibei, Peter Kamai, Moses Kigen and Isaac Arusei in the senior men’s 12km. Also in the run for slots in the national team from North Rift include 2006 World junior champion Mangata Ndiwa, last year’s bronze medallist Bernard Kipyego, Yusuf Biwott and Mike Kipyego.
Jepleting Vs Cheruiyot in women’s race
Veteran Leah Malot will lead the senior women’s team from the region which is hugely endowed with distance running talent.
Others are Flomena Cheiyech, Jane Kiptoo, Eunice Kirwa, Rose Kosgei, Emily Biwott and Margaret Adodonyang.
But they will face a strong opposition from a former World champion, Vivian Cheruiyot, Osaka World 5000m bronze medallist, Priscah Jepleting, World youth 3000m champion, Mercy Cherono, Linet Chepkirui and Doris Changweyo, both winner and runner-up at the Kenya Armed Forces Championships last month.
The evergreen Peninah Arusei, Irene Kwambai, Monica Otwori and Irene Lemika, all top-10 finishers at the Armed Forces trials, can not be ruled out.
Jepleting has been impressive this year, including winning the Cross Internacional Juan Muguerza in Elgoibar, Spain, where she beat Ethiopia’s Wude Yimer last month.
Kitwara has four wins in the local cross-country circuit under his belt, having won in the first race in Nairobi, Machakos, Kisii and Meru. Kitwara has the best pair of legs this season outside the disciplined forces, where, as usual, Kenya’s answer to the all-conquering Ethiopian brigade led by five-time winner, Kenenisa Bekele and Eritrean World champion, Zersennay Tadesse.
Athletics Kenya skipped two legs of the local cross country circuit in Nyahururu and Eldoret.
With former African 5000m and 10,000m junior champion Moses Masai who won at the Kenya Police Championships, Ngatunyi who took the Kenya Prisons title and Koskei, who ran away with the title at the Armed Forces event, the line-up for the Kenya team to Edinburgh is almost made. But the finer details will come at the Nationals.
Battle-hardened runners like John Cheruiyot Korir, Abraham Cherono (both Armed Forces), Richard Matelong (Police) and Thomas Longosiwa (Prisons) are again expected to spoil the party for the favourites.
Athletics Kenya has relaxed conditions for taking part in the national event because of the interruptions in the intervening period.
A stiff fight is also expected from some athletes who excelled abroad like Kiprono Menjo, who won in San Sebastián, Spain, who was also eighth in 10,000m final in last year’s World Championships in Osaka, and World 3,000m steeplechase bronze medalist, Eunice Jepkorir, who won the women’s titles at the same Spanish race last month.
Omulo Okoth for the IAAF