The Kenyan men’s team which will arrive in the Belgium capital this week for the 32nd IAAF World Cross Country Championships (20/21 March) have a nostalgia for the days when the men's individual titles belonged 'automatically' to Kenya.
They remember with pride the hegemony of the ten years when John Ngugi (1986-89 & 1992) and Paul Tergat (1995-1999) each won five individual men’s titles, let alone the two years when William Sigei (1993/94) had victories.
However, since 2002 Ethiopia's Kenenisa Bekele has taken away both 'their' short and long course titles, the former which had been in Kenya’s sole possession since the short course distance's inception into the World Cross programme in 1998.
So what awaits the Kenyans in Brussels?
A visit to the team training camp near Mount Kenya last week revealed some subtle tactical planning has been put into place by a national coaching staff made up of seven officials. For the first time, Athletics Kenya has put one coach in charge of each category.
Kenya's 'magnificent coaching seven'
Coach James Kibet, under whose tutelage Kenya won the 12km senior men's individual title for the last time in 1999, is back in the team and is responsible for the men's short course team, which features twice World champion John Kibowen, Abraham Chebii, Kiplimo Muneria, Boniface Songok, Isaac Songok and Eliud Kirui.
Joseph Chelimo, with a wealth of coaching experience gained from the successful camp in Eldoret, has the onerous task
of handling the 12km men's team, which has World 5000m champion Eliud Kipchoge, Commonwealth 10,000m champion Wilberforce Talel, 2001 World 5000m champion Richard Limo, 2001 World 10,000m Gold medallist Charles Kamathi, John C. Korir, and the promising Simon Kiprop.
Peninah Talam, daughter of pioneer Kenyan athlete Talam Keter, has made history of sorts by being the first woman to coach a men's team. She will be responsible for the junior men's team, which has Barnabas Kosgei, younger sibling of steeplechaser John Kosgei, Hosea Macharnyang, Ronald Kipchumba, Ernest Meli, Moses Masai and Kipkosgei Salil.
Peter Mathu, formerly in charge of Lornah Kiplagat's High Altitude Training Centre, will handle the women's 8km team of Alice Timbilil, Sally Barsosio, Irene Kwambai, Eunice Jepkorir, Jane Ngotho and Fridah Domongole.
Andrew Nabukhwesa is in charge of the women's short course squad of Beatrice Jepchumba, Jane Gakunyi, Edith Masai, Peninah Jepchumba, Isabella Ochichi and Vivian Cheruiyot.
Thomas Mukhwana will coach the 6km junior women team of Chemutai Rionotukei, Jebichi Yator, Emmy Chepkurui, Nelly Chepkurui, Gladys Chemweno and Everline Kimwei.
and finally Patrick Sang...
The final name of the seven is Patrick Sang, 1991 and 1993 World and 1992 Barcelona Olympics 3000m steeplechase silver medallist, who is the "Coaches' Co-ordinator", a euphemism for Head Coach.
"I can see a winning team here. The preparations have run perfectly well and the response and co-operation from the athletes is so encouraging," said Sang at the camp.
"We are now closer to the athletes than before. One coach is only handling six athletes. We had to depart from the old method where some three coaches were handling the entire team. Things have changed and athletes need closer attention," said Sang.
Kibowen is the overall team captain, while Ngotho is the women's captain. "The 4km race will be hard to predict because any of us can win it. We've all trained well and are in good shape. However, surprises can occur although we'll do our best," said Kibowen.
Kipchoge is Sang's bet for gold
Sang is confident that the winner of the 12km individual title will be Kenyan. Being the overall coach, he keeps his predictions to himself, but paid glowing tribute to Kipchoge, who is Kenya’s main hope for gold.
"Kipchoge is good, but so are the rest of team members. Even among the women, Sally Barsosio is a possible winner as much as are Edith Masai or even Rionotukei," said Sang.
Kipchoge for his part says they have not hinged their championships on Bekele or any other one individual.
"We don't want to run for Bekele. If we plan our races with him in mind, what happens if he does not show up? Do we start all over again?" asks Kipchoge.