Wilfred Bungei of Kenya on his way to victory in the men's 800m final (Getty Images) © Copyright
General News Nairobi, Kenya

Kenya aiming for repeat of Tokyo success

The last batch of Kenya's world athletics team left Nairobi on Tuesday (21) for Osaka, determined to match the success of their compatriots from the 1991 IAAF World Championships in Athletics edition in Tokyo.

Bungei chasing elusive outdoor title

"History is weighing heavily on us to emulate our brothers who competed in Tokyo and swept the mid and long distance as the championships return to Asia after 16 years," said team captain Wilfred Bungei, a silver medallist in the 2001 edition in the 800m.

In Tokyo 16 years ago, Kenyan men captured gold in all events from the 800m to the 10,000, with the exception of the 1500, where Wilfred Kirochi finished second to Algerian Noureddine Morceli.

"Personally, I think after six years of serious competition it is time I finally get that gold medal which eluded me two years ago in Helsinki,”Bungei said. “Tradition is also weighing heavily on me too."

Bungei is burdened by the fact that his village mates from Kapsiriring have conquered the world, the last one being Wilson Kipketer, the Dane.

He will be joined in this mission by Commonwealth Games champion in the two lap event Janeth Jepkosgei who is also from the same village which also produced Africa record holder Sammy Koskei.

Kenya which has had a lean outing in the world championships in recent times which reached its nadir in Helsinki two years ago when Benjamin Limo emerged as the lone gold medallist, is going for many medals.

Unlike then, Kenya is eyeing at least four gold medals and this time women too look to share the podium with their male counterparts.

Solid prospects in the Steeplechase

Good prospects lie in the 3000m Steeplechase which minus reigning twice World champion Saif Saaeed Shaheen of Qatar, any of the three Kenyans are potential champions.

Olympics champion Ezekiel Kemboi, still smarting over defeat by World junior champion Willy Komen at the recent All Africa Games, will be the man to watch but Brimin Kipruto, a silver medallists at the Olympics and Kenyan champion Richard Matelong are also a fearsome duo. But all have agreed they must run as a team to ensure this medal returns "home".

Solid trio in the men’s 5000m

Similar good prospects can be traced in the 5000m where Limo has vowed to excel in his last track engagement before moving to the Marathon as early as next year.

The 2003 champion Eliud Kipchoge and 2006 World Cross Country short course silver medallist Isaac Songok have indicated that they would not be willing to surrender this medal Kenya has come to cherish since 2001 in Edmonton.

The 2003 Marathon World marathon champion Catherine Ndereba kept away from any serious engagement this year specifically to prepare for the World championships. She even shifted base from Kenya to the United States and she will be arriving in Osaka on 27 August to complete the job.

Kiprop, Ebuya looking to seize first senior opportunity

Kenya's fresh-faced boys too don't plan on being denied. Asbel Kiprop, still a junior, and Joseph Ebuya, barely 20, will be testing the turbulent waters of the planet's biggest sporting show in 2007. Kiprop has been impressive in domestic competition and has notched two major medals - the first at the World Cross Country Championships in Mombasa where he captured the men's Junior title and at the All Africa Games, where he emerged victorious in the 1500m.

In spite of failing to fair well in two major IAAF World Athletics Tour meetings in Athens and Lausanne, Kiprop has said he is ready for the unknown.

Japan-based Josphat Ndambiri and Martin Mathathi will be using home ground advantage in an attempt to halt the indominable rein of Ethiopians at the 10,000m.

Peter Njenga (Kenya Times) for IAAF