Kenya’s team of 21 athletes to the World Youth Championships in Ostrava, Czech Republic, has experienced runners who are expected to spearhead the country’s effort to improve on the medal tally of the last edition held in Marrakech, Morocco in 2005.
Among them is Sheila Chepkirui, gold medal winner in the 1500m in a Championship record of 4:12.29 in Marrakech, 2005. She will go to Ostrava among the favourites in the event.
800 metres runner Winny Chebet has one mission in Ostrava – to break the jinx of silver. She won one in Marrakech and added another at the World Junior Championships in Beijing last year.
The girls’ 3000 metres duo of Mercy Cherono and Chepet Cheptai will not only go for medals in Ostrava but also try and break the Championship record of 9:01.61 set by country mate Veronica Nyaruai while winning gold in Marrakech.
Cheptai, a pupil at Kaptabuk primary school, found in West Pokot, the home area of former marathon wonder Tegla Loroupe, is a younger sister of former World Cross Country junior champion Pauline Korikwang.
Cheptai made it to the Kenyan team to this year’s IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Mombasa, but due to her age she was put on the reserve list.
Kenya has high hopes of winning the girls steeplechase event with the presence in the team of Caroline Chepkurui, winner of same event at the World Junior Championships in Beijing last year.
Lucas Rotich who is reining national secondary schools cross country champion is Kenya’s greatest hope to wrestle the 3000 metres title from Ethiopia. Kenya’s best placed runner in the event in 2005 in Marrakech was Bernard Matheka who finished 6th.
Rotich, a very aggressive and front-running athlete is a school mate of World junior 800m champion David Rudisha.
Though other athletes in the team are new in international competition, the team's head coach Japhet Kemei has great hopes.
Kenya has broken its tradition of only sending teams to the World Youth Championships with medal harvest in mind. This time round the team includes sprinters, a move seen as the country's effort to diversify from its long distance tradition to short races also.
Vivian Chelagat will be the team’s lone participant in the girls 200m. The team also has runners in the boys 400m Hurdles.
David Macharia (Daily Nation) for the IAAF