Patrick Ivuti, the reigning World Cross Country silver medallist, a feat he also accomplished in the 1999 championships dreams of going one step further and attaining the World title.
Against expectations, the highly talented Ivuti halted a likely 1-2 Ethiopian finish at last year's World Cross in Lausanne after his Kenyan colleagues failed to keep up with the searing pace set by Ethiopia's sensational Kenenisa Bekele who retained the senior men's 12km race title, as well as the short course gold.
Ivuti has been largely dogged by injury since his silver in 1999, although once in a while he has been able to notch-up credible results in European road races. However, now he is confident that he has re-discovered his previous form.
Together with many of Kenya's leading distance runners, Ivuti will on Saturday be representing his unit, the Moi Air Base, at the 24th Armed Forces Cross Country Championships in Nairobi.
Nothing brings out the competitive spirit of these soldiers more than their championships. As usual they do it as a 'matter of honour.'
Last year Ivuti, who competes in the long course race on Saturday, could only manage fourth, as the 2002 Commonwealth Games 5000m champion Sammy Kipketer won, and was followed home by Commonwealth Games steeplechase bronze medallist Abraham Cherono, and the great five-time World Cross Country champion Paul Tergat, a man who has been Ivuti's greatest inspiration and trusted training partner.
Ivuti has moved away from the comfort of his home in his native Machakos area to lead a Spartan life in an open field bordering a forest at the Ngong Hills, 25km north of the capital, where all Armed Forces' athletes train.
Together with his colleagues, John Korir, the national champion, 1998 World Half Marathon gold medallist Paul Koech, and Richard Limo the 2001 World 5000m track winner, Ivuti sleeps under tented canvas, spending the evening in front of a bonfire discussing ways of how to conquer their Ethiopian rivals.
"The Armed Forces are just a warm-up ahead of the nationals which will earn me a ticket to meet with the Ethiopians. We must reverse their winning trend," said Ivuti on Thursday (15 Feb) after having taken a morning run through the muddy forest following a heavy overnight downpour.
Korir is in the running too
Like Ivuti, Korir is like a King without a crown. Going by his domestic record he is the best Kenyan cross country runner probably since Paul Tergat, a record he has yet to match at international level.
"My focus is on the World championships and I want to take on Bekele," Korir said. "Last year I was in good shape but something happened in my stomach and my body failed to respond."
The short course race...
In the short race, John Kibowen and Benjamin Limo who have each previously won the World short course title should be a force on Saturday but last year's champion Richard Geemi will also be a person to watch.
Prior to Saturday's cross country competition, other athletes will line up on Friday (today 16 Jan) for the 30km road race, which last year was won by Onesmus Kilonzo.