Kenyan Armed Forces Championships expected minus Tergat
Peter Njenga for the IAAF
1 February 2002 - Nairobi, Kenya - Kenyans road to Dublin world cross country championships starts on Saturday during the annual Armed Forces cross country championships at a race course in the outskirts of the capital Nairobi
Locally regarded the second most competitive meeting after the national championships especially at the senior men's 12km race, five times world champion Paul Tergat will this year be staying away for the first time in a decade.
Although he will be sadly missed, Kenyans have accepted this reality but will continue without him as they search for a successor to his throne.
The Forces Championships have produced a succession of athletes who reached the highest step of the podium, including three world champions, until two years ago when Belgian Mohammed Mourhit halted Kenya's unbeaten victory record dating back to 1992.
So this year the results will have a significant bearing in Kenya's quest of finding a leading athlete in the mould of Tergat, William Sigei (champion in 1993/94) or John Ngugi (1986-89-92), according to national head coach Mike Kosgei.
Mourhit is already shaping up fast after a few false starts in his season, as he proved when he finished third behind Kenyans David Makori and Shadrack Kosgei in Tourcoing, France last Sunday under adverse weather conditions.
Kenyans have exclusively remained at home after a hard and long season that saw them combine competition on the track and road running.
That is not to say athletes like Sammy Kipketer, Kipkurui Misoi, John Korir, Paul Kosgei and Paul Koech are not capable of taking Mourhit's throne and their time to prove themselves is tomorrow.
No doubt Kipketer and Stephen Rerimoi start off the blocks with a better home experience after competing in local meetings since the beginning of the new season last November.
Rerimoi won in two weekend cross country meetings organised by the Kenya Athletic Association but failed to win in Eldoret on January 12 and in the process lost a share of the US$15,000 jackpot. Kipketer was the runaway winner in the annual Moi University meeting cross country in Eldoret in the 4km category.
Tergat's understudies, notably last year's national champion John Korir, Paul Kosgei and Patrick Ivuti (second in 1999) have started training but are yet to be tried, especially Ivuti who has remained inactive due to injury since June last year.
Korir and Kosgei are considered potentially promising athletes after their participation in last year's world championships in near freezing weather conditions in the Belgian sea port of Ostend. Kosgei was fifth, Ivuti 7th and Korir, 28th. They have age on their side, notwithstanding the invaluable experience they are picking up along the way.
One man who will be following today's meeting with keen interest is national head coach Kosgei. Revered locally as a master tactician, Kosgei said he planned to identify athletes who will compete in the World Championships on Saturday and after next weekend in the Prisons and Police championships when athletes like Charles Kamathi, Catherine Ndereva and Susan Chepkemei compete.
The forces meeting will be between 10 units spread across Kenya led by Nairobi, Moi Air Base, Kahawa, Giligil, Lanet, Navy Mtongwe, Nanyuki, Laikipia Air Base, Isiolo and Thika.
Women like former world champion Jackline Maranga will be competing as individuals.