Sammy Kipketer (KEN) sprints to victory in Brussels (Getty Images) © Copyright
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Kenyan athletes to compete for a World Championships spot this Saturday in Nairobi

Battle lines are drawn as Kenya holds its World Cross Country Championships trials in Nairobi's Ngong Race Course on Saturday.

The event, also to serve as the National Championships and International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) Cross Country meeting, has attracted five countries in the eastern African region.

However, focus will mainly be among the top Kenyan athletes whose journey to retain the world cross country gold medal for the 18th successive year will begin at the trials.

Richard Limo, who won last year's blue ribband race, and was consequently widely believed to be 'King' Paul Tergat heir-apparent, has not had a good season locally, only finishing third at the Great Rift Valley Cross Country meeting last month behind the winner Robert Cheruiyot and Linus Maiyo. He finished a disappointing fourth in Dublin last year.

Maiyo went ahead to win the Rift Valley Provincial title and must be closely monitored as the fight to beat Ethiopia's double world champion Kenenisa Bekele begins in earnest at the Kenyan Trials.

Sammy Kipketer has moved from his familiar grounds of the 4km race where he won silver in 2000 and was fourth in 2001 and 2002 to the 12km race. According to insiders, this is the man most likely to be charged with the huge task of beating the indefatigable Ethiopian.

"I am in good shape, but let us see what happens at the trials first. You know, the Kenyan trials can be tougher than the World Championships itself, what with all these international athletes," said Kipketer.

"You must also remember that I will be running only my second 12km race after winning the Armed Forces title last month. Once I am through with the Kenyan trials, now we can talk about the World stage," said the confident 22-year soldier.

After finishing fourth in Dublin in the short course race, he moved to run the world's best at the Crescent City Classic 10km in New Orleans, USA, a week later.

He will face world 10,000 metres World champion Charles Kamathi, last year's bronze medalist Wilberforce Talel, Abraham Cherono, Patrick Ivuti, John Korir and Tom Nyariki and even Limo who can still pull a surprise. Former short course champion Benjamin Limo will spearhead the Armed Forces assault in the 4km race where 1500 metres Olympic champion Noah Ngeny will also run.

The Kenya Prisons 'Golden Girls' should dominate the women's 8km race with former world's fastest marathon runner Catherine Ndereba and younger sister Anastacia Ndereba running from the front.

Margaret Okayo, the Boston City Marathon titlist and Ruth Kutol will provide a stiff competition against Armed Forces' Anne Njeri, Jesica Obare, Pamela Chepchumba and Inness Chenonge.

In the short course race, world champion Edith Masai will come face to face with Commonwealth Games 10,000 metres champion Selina Kosgei who beat her at the Kenya Prisons trials two weeks ago.

Also to provide equally stiff competition are Kenya Police duo of Isabella Ochichi, who took home bronze last year in Dublin, and upcoming Jane Mukonyi, who won the Police title.

Besides the old faces who are known across the globe for their exploits, Kenya is notorious of springing up new faces who can dominate at the world stage. This year's trials may not be an exception.

Omulo Okoth for the IAAF