The International Chiba Ekiden, Chiba, Japan on Thursday 23 November, a national holiday in Japan, is the last athletics event for which Kenya will be fielding a full strength national team before the 2007 IAAF World Cross Country Championships take place in Mombasa, Kenya, next March, and the country's expectations are high for a successful defence of both the men’s and women’s titles in Chiba.
In 2005, the Kenya men's team set a World record for the Road Relay of 1:57:06 over the 42.1.95km distance in Chiba, which was 50 seconds faster than the previous mark set by Morocco in 1994.
“Winning is very important to us,” said head of delegation Joseph Kinyua. “In 2005 we won by running faster in the opening stages in Chiba. This year we have a different approach.”
Relying on the experience of 2005, Kenya will be represented by Japan-based athletes with the exception of New York Marathon third place finisher Catherine Ndereba and her sister Anastasia Ndereba, who are included in the women’s squad.
The other five women who all live in Japan and generally compete for Corporate teams are exceptionally good going by their performance of last year when they outpaced the opposition which included top-class athletes from Ethiopia, Japan and Britain, the latter led by marathon World record holder Paula Radcliffe.
This time Kenya has sent coach Charles Obuogi to Chiba four days in advance of the race to evaluate the team’s approach to the Relay.
The men’s line-up is spearheaded by Martin Mathathi, a bronze medallist in this year's World Cross Country Championships in Fukuoka, Japan. The youthful Mathathi contributed to Kenya's record and overall 2005 Chiba men's relay title after running the second 10km stage in 27:12 which opened up a 40 seconds lead over Yuki Sato of Japan. Mekubo Mogusu was the fastest in stage four of 10km in 27:56, and John Kariuki ensured Kenya added 10 more seconds to their cumulative time as he braced the tape in 19:59 at the end of Stage 6 (7.195km).
Mathathi has won in four major track meetings in Japan this season, notable among them the 5000m at the Osaka Grand Prix 5000m (13:05.55) on 6 May, and the 10,000m (27:10.51) at the Hyogo Relays (23 April).
“We have retained the same team because we are confident of our Japan-based athletes who are traditionally in superlative form when running there,” confirmed Kinyua.
“We brought in Ndereba because of her experience and because of the motivational role she plays for the entire team.”
Ndereba, the 2003 World Marathon champion, has left the organisational work of her own road race, “the Dedan Kimathi Safaricom 21km” which takes place on Sunday (26) to her husband and friends, so that she is available to run in Japan.
Commonwealth Games 10,000 metres gold and silver medallists Lucy Wangui and Evelyn Wambui are also enjoying top form. On 5 November, Wangui led her Suzuki team to victory in the Awajishima Ekiden after running the third stage the fastest.
Peter Njenga (Daily Nation) for the IAAF
Martin Mathathi, Job Mogusu, Josphat Muchiri, James Ndung'u, Daniel Mwangi, Cyrus Njui, Gideon Ngatunyi.
Catherine Ndereba, Anastasia Ndereba, Philes Ongori, Evelyn Wambui, Selly Chepyego, Jane Gakunyi, Lucy Wangui. Coach: Charles Obuogi.
Team manager Peter Waithanje.
Head of delegation: Joseph Kinyua.
Note: Ken Nakamura’s general preview of the Chiba Ekiden will be published later this week