The 2012 season was an extra ordinary one for Kenyan athletes, the country’s mixed misfortunes at the London Olympic Games in August notwithstanding.
Looking back in the year, good performances by David Rudisha and Ezekiel Kemboi at the Olympics must have calmed the hearts of many Kenyans, besides the magnificent Faith Chepng’etich’s charge at the World Junior Championships and Pamela Jelimo’s inspiring comeback tale.
But Julius Yego’s historic debut in javelin at the London Olympic Games and subsequently at the Diamond League, becoming the first African to reach the Olympics javelin final is a story that captured the world and perhaps after gaining his experience and skills from the YouTube.
Mary Keitany became the first Kenyan woman to clinch the 2011/2012 World Marathon Majors for a share of the US$ 1m in prize money after shinning at the London Marathon where she broke Catherine Ndereba’s national record of two hours,18:47 minutes in a new time of 2:18:37.
Geoffrey Mutai then won the Berlin Marathon in September to uphold Kenyan men’s dominance in the World Marathon Majors as he and Keitany pocketed the US$1m jackpot.
In what was termed “the performance of the Olympics” by former world record holder Sebastian Coe, phenomenal Rudisha broke his own 800m world record, setting a new time of one minute, 40.91 seconds in the final at the Olympic Stadium on August 9.
In the process, Rudisha, who celebrated his 24th birthday on December 17, entered history books as the first reigning 800m world champion to win an Olympic gold medal over the distance.
Rudisha’s affair with world records started when he became youngest athlete to win the IAAF Athlete of the Year Award in 2010 at the age of 21 after shattering Wilson Kipketer’s 13-year-old record of 1:41.09 in a new time of 1:41.09 on August 22. He them lowered it a week later to 1:41.01.
Rudisha’s exploits in London saw Nigel Amos of Botswana and compatriot Timothy Kitum claim silver and bronze respectively. The performance saw Rudisha win the 2012 IAAF Performance of the Year Award at the IAAF Gala in Barcelona, where Nation Media Group sports journalist Elias Makori won World Journalist of the Year Award.
The 2004 Athens Olympics steeplechase champion Ezekiel Kemboi was the first to strike gold for Kenya, before breaking into his trademark dance.
The world champion defied court battles to recapture the 3,000m steeplechase title.
But the overall performance was a big blow for Kenya, who had projected gold medal haul of 10 after harvesting six gold at the 2008 Beijing Games. What even heightened Kenya’s expectations was the country’s impressive showing at the Daegu 2011 World Championships, where Kenya collected seven gold, six silver and four bronze medals.
Kenya would return home from London with only two gold, four silver and five bronze medals, relinquishing the 1,500m men and women titles, women 800m title and men’s marathon title.
Kenya went into the Games as favourites to win both marathon titles, with world champions Abel Kirui and Edna Kiplagat in the team. Besides, Wilson Kipsang (2:03:42-Frankfurt) and Emmanuel Mutai (2:04:40-London) had some of the leading times going into the Olympics.
Keitany’s explosive time of 2:18:37 In London (the third fastest of all time) made her an outright favourite.
However, Kenyans had no idea what Ugandan Stephen Kiprotich had in store for them as he zoomed past Kirui and Kipsang with less than five kilometres to go to win the race in a time of 2:08:01. Kirui won silver and Kipsang bronze as Mutai fizzled to seventh.
World silver medallist Prisca Jeptoo saved Kenya the blushes when she won silver after Ethiopia’s Tiki Gelana held her off for gold in a soggy Olympic women’s marathon. Gelana (2:23: 07) finished five seconds ahead of Jeptoo.
Favourite to win both the events, World 5000m and 10,000m champion Vivian Cheruiyot was the most disappointed. She settled for silver and bronze respectively as she wilted again before Ethiopians Meseret Defar and Tirunesh Dibaba, who won the events. World silver medallist Sally Kipyego claimed silver in the 10,000m.
Even with advance training locally before the controversial Olympic Trials of the 10,000m team in Eugene, USA, where athletes posted personal bests, Kenya only managed a bronze in 5,000m through Thomas Longosiwa.
Mo Farah from Britain won both events, locking out a tough opposition from Kenya and Ethiopia.
Bedan Karoki was the best placed Kenyan in sixth position in 10,000m race; Moses Masai came in 12th while favourite Wilson Kiprop dropped out of the race. Kiprop had taken over as the world leader in Eugene, winning the trial in 27:01.98.
Hot favourite Asbel Kiprop failed to defend his World and Olympic 1,500 titles finishing last in the final where another top contender, World silver medallist Silas Kiplagat, came in seventh. Algerian Taoufik Makkhloufi won the race.
Return of Jelimo
A resurgent Beijing Olympic 800m champion Pamela Jelimo was also tipped to retain the title after a magnificent comeback, having won the World Indoor Championship title in March. But the stunned athlete came fourth as Russian Mariya Savinova won the race.
Beijing Olympic silver medallist and 2007 World champion Janeth Jepkosgei finished last.
With the 1,500m defending champion out, the onus was on the World Indoor 3,000m champion Hellen Obiri and multi world junior champion Faith Chepng’etich. Chepng’etich fell out in the semis, while Obiri reached the final where she finished last.
After Milcah Chemos’ astute display in the Diamond League, winning the Norway leg with Africa national record time 9:07:14, Olympic glory beckoned for the Berlin 2009 and Daegu 2011 World bronze medallist in London.
However, a recurrent injury saw her miss out on the podium places, coming in fourth as World champion Yuliya Zaripova won to add another jewel to her collection.
Yego, who is also the Africa and All Africa Games javelin champion, powered to the final and, despite finishing last in the 12th position with a throw of 77.15 metres, it was a great show from the Kenyan.
Kenya’s trip to London was preceded by protests from athletes that saw Athletics Kenya shelve the intended trials of the long distance track races in Oregon, USA, with only 10,000m heading for the June selection.
The athletes also boycotted the advance camp at Bristol University, with a small number of sprinters leaving as the rest remained behind at Kasarani to continue with their preparation.