Nairobi, KenyaThe Kenyan team is still haunted by the resounding defeat inflicted on it in the individual senior category by Kenenisa Bekele of Ethiopia at the 2002 World Cross Country in Dublin.
Last year, Bekele, hitherto only known for having won the junior title and a silver medal in the senior short course race in Ostend, Belgium, in 2001, strode away to history on Dublin’s Leopardstown race course by running away with two titles – the short 4-km and the most-prized long course 12-km races.
“He is in for a fight this time. We can't allow that again, but if he will be lucky to win one, he won't repeat the feat by winning a double,” confirmed John Kibowen, winner of short course races in Marrakech in 1998 and again in Portugal in 2001, and one of the senior athletes of the Kenyan team for the 2003 IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Lausanne (29-30 March).
The Kenyan team is training at their traditional venue in Embu, some 250-km north east of capital Nairobi under the watchful eyes of their veteran cross country coach Mike Kosgei.
Kosgei is, however, careful to avoid the same mistake as last year when Kenya aimed their own arsenal of running talent in the wrong direction.
“We are training seriously for the event and while the Bekele issue keeps popping up in our discussions, we are not particularly preoccupied by him as such,” Kosgei said.
Last year the Kenyans targeted (Belgian) Mohammed Mourhit, then twice World champion in the 12-km race, only for Bekele to emerge.
“But this time, it may not even be Bekele. Sergey Lebid (of Ukraine) seems the most dangerous man this time but we shall not leave anything to chance in case another person emerges. Tanzania's John Yuda is another athlete to watch,” confirmed a cautious Kosgei.
Yuda trains in Kenya at the Team Puma camp in Nyahururu at the foot of Mount Kenya, with a group of athletes who belong to the Kim International Management company.
Kosgei thought the Kenyan team did not have enough time to train last year and this might have forced them to do too many things within too short a time.
”We have four weeks this time, which is enough to load, ease and rest. We are not scrabbling with too many things to fit in our programme. No crash programme this time.”
“We will be very careful not to run recklessly. We shall retain our team work but the 12-km individual title is always in our mind.”
Kenya last won the individual title in 1999 when Paul Tergat won the fifth of his five successive titles in Belfast, Northen Ireland, while Mourhit slipped away with the title in Villamoura in 2000 and retained it in 2001 in Ostend.
Kosgei says he has everybody who matters in his team. He seems to have a lot of faith in the senior athletes. He did not mind John Korir's fourth place in Cinque Mulini Cross Country in Italy early this month, won by Lebid.
He sees very bright prospects for Patrick Ivuti, Abraham Cherono and Sammy Kipketer. But he says Paul Koech, second in 1998 in Marrakech, has the experience to push them, and Richard Limo retains the unpredictability to surprise the field.
Of the 4-km race, Kosgei says he has some of the most refined runners who include two past world champions Kibowen and Benjamin Limo.
The women in the short course team are defending titlist Edith Masai and national champion Isabella Ochichi, who won bronze in Dublin, not to mention former twice junior champion Viola Kibiwot, and another former junior champion Vivian Cheruiyot, both of whom have graduated to the senior categories this
Alice Timbilil, Kenyan champion who won the women's title in Cinque Mulini, Pamela Chepchumba, Jepkorir Aiyabei and Magdaline Chemjor will spearhead the senior women team’s title hopes against their Ethiopian rivals.
Eliud Kipchoge, winner of a share of the Athletics Kenya/Energizer 1 million sh ($12,800) Golden Jackpot, and Solomon Busiendich are among the top juniors in the men’s team. Jepchumba Koech, Peninah Chepchumba and Chemutai Rionotukei are capable of ensuring the junior women's title remains in Kenya.
By Omulo Okoth for IAAF