Great Britain has invested £13 million (Sh1.7 billion) in its Olympic team that has so far won just two gold medals a week into the Games, but when Team Kenya’s juggernaut starts rolling on Friday, officials here expect four gold medals inside three days.
Not too bad for a lean but mean squad with a budget of just Sh55 million, and which launches its quest for gold at 11.25pm (Kenyan time) in the women’s 10,000 metres final where double World champion Vivian Cheruiyot is red-hot favourite.
Other potential Kenyan gold medals this weekend will be panned in the men’s 10,000m final from 11.15pm on Saturday, with hope also lying in Sunday’s women’s marathon (1pm) and men’s steeplechase (11.25pm).
But the first Kenyan in track and field action today will be 400m hurdler Vincent Kiplangat Kosgei, in the third of six first round heats at the spanking new Olympic Stadium in Stratford, East London.
On Friday night, Cheruiyot will be pushed by team mates – US-based World Championships silver medallist Sally Kipyego and Administration policewoman Joyce Chepkirui – with the biggest threat expected from Ethiopia’s Tirunesh Dibaba, who holds both the 5,000m and 10,000m Olympic titles.
Kenyans living England plan to turn out en masse when the athletics programme unfolds this morning after President Mwai Kibaki wished the team well in a special message he delivered to them on Wednesday night, shortly before winding up his working tour of London.
Celebrations are planned at Kenya House, a Sh35 million, Kenya Commercial Bank-funded centre set up on the fringes of the Olympic Park to tout Kenya as Africa’s preferred investment destination.
“Vivian has done extremely well this season and is determined to win an Olympic gold,” Athletics Kenya chairman Isaiah Kiplagat, who sits in the decision-making Council of world athletics governing body, IAAF, said on Thursday. “I look forward to presenting her with the gold medal during the medal ceremony for the 10,000 metres which will be done on Saturday at 6pm.”
Dibaba is seeking to become only the second woman to strike gold at two Olympics after compatriot Derartu Tulu (in 1992 and 2000) and the first to achieve the feat in successive Games.
Dogged by a series of injuries since Beijing four years ago, she bounced back recently to record the season’s fastest 10,000m time.
The women’s 10,000m race tonight will be the first track final of the London 2012 Games and will also feature Russia’s Elizavetha Grechishnikova, the quickest non-African this year, with another strong runner in the field being Kenyan-born American Janet Cherobon-Bawcom and her team mate Amy Hastings.
Cherobon-Bawcom, a Harding (Arkansas) University-trained cardiac nurse, was born in Kapsabet.
Having taken up US citizenship in November 2010 after getting married to Jay, an American, she has dominated American road running since. Running 1:24.36, she broke the 28-year national record in the 25-kilometre race, previously held by Joan Benoit Samuelson, by seven seconds.
Break 44-year men’s 10,000m jinx
Having been entered in the 5,000m race as well, Cheruiyot will be doubling as she turns 29 years and 53 days old on race day on Saturday.
A senior officer in the Kenya Police detective arm, CID, the petite “Pocket Rocket” had a final workout yesterday morning before going for the mandatory out of competition dope test at the Olympic Park.
She has remained largely anonymous here, preferring to stay away from the prying eyes of the media.
“I can only comment after the race, but I’m feeling good,” the runner said yesterday, accompanied by her husband-coach Moses Kirui.
Kiplagat meanwhile remains hopeful that the trio of Bedan Karoki, Moses Masai and Wilson Kiprop will break the 44-year jinx in the 10,000m Saturday.
Since Naftali Temu won gold at the 1968 Mexico Olympics, no Kenyan man has won the race at these Games, prompting AK to hold a long training camp for hopefuls in Eldoret and shift the London 2012 trials to Eugene, Oregon, in the USA.
“We hope that this change of approach will yield a gold medal on Saturday (today),” Kiplagat said.
Saying that the biggest threat to this quest will come from Ethiopia’s World champion Ibrahim Jeylan and title holder Kenenisa Bekele, Kiplagat added: “Jeylan is young and aggressive, while you can never write off Kenenisa on this stage.”
Kenya will be represented in Sunday’s women’s marathon by London Marathon champion Mary Keitany, World champion Edna Kiplagat and Daegu World Championships silver medallist Priscah Jeptoo.
The three Kenyans swept the podium in this year’s Virgin London Marathon with Keitany winning, Kiplagat second and Jeptoo third, and they will be looking forward to another triumphant outing on the streets on the British capital.
Bar tragedy in the heats, Brimin Kipruto will later in the day set out to defend his steeplechase title against flamboyant World champion Ezekiel Kemboi. He will compete alongside Abel Mutai.