Intrigues and surprises marked Kenyan athletics in 2015.
The season will go down as one of the most successful year in the history of Kenyan athletics. For the first time in the history of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) World Championships, Kenya topped the medal standing, beating giants USA and Jamaica in August in Beijing.
Perhaps it is Kenya’s performance at the IAAF World Cross Country held in March in Guiyang, China where the country won two individual and three team titles that set the stage for Team Kenya’s performance in Beijing.
Team Kenya also achieved remarkable results at the IAAF World Youth Championships in Cali, Colombia, in June, finishing second behind USA.
However, Kenya’s stellar performance was almost ruined by doping among her athletes.
The suspension of three-time winner of the Boston Marathon and two-time Chicago Marathon champion, Rita Jeptoo, for two years in January for doping pointed to bad times for Kenya as more of the country’s athletes would later be banned.
The 2010 and 2013 World Cross Country champion Emily Chebet and 2014 World relay 4x800m silver medallist Agatha Jeruto were banned for four years for doping.
The 2015 season will also be remembered for sweeping changes at Athletics Kenya (AK) headquarters in Riadha House. AK President Isaiah Kiplagat who had served at the federation and internationally for four decades, left the association in controversial circumstances.
IAAF Ethics Commission suspended Kiplagat alongside vice president David Okeyo and AK’s former treasurer Joseph Kinyua for six months in November for their alleged involvement in graft and subversion of anti-doping programmes in Kenya.
The season got off to a good start in March when Kenya retained men and women’s titles at the World Cross Country Championships through Geoffrey Kamworor and Agnes Jebet.
Beijing National Stadium, also known as the Bird’s Nest, turned out to be a good hatching ground for Kenyan athletes.
It’s at the Bird’s Nest is the venue where Team Kenya staged its best performance at the 2008 Olympics, but that performance was eclipsed at this year’s World Championships held at the same venue.
At the 2008 Olympics, Pamela Jelimo and Jebet Langat won Kenya her maiden Olympic gold medal in women’s 800m and 1,500m respectively, Samuel Wanjiru becoming the first Kenyan to win men’s marathon at the Olympics.
In total, Kenya won six gold medals, four silver and four bronze. Wilfred Bungei (800m), Brimin Kipruto (3,000m steeplechase) and Asbel Kiprop (1,500m) won the other gold medals.
This year, Team Kenya returned to the Bird’s Nest with hopes of performing well, but topping the medals table for the first time in history was least expected.
The country hauled seven gold, six silver and three bronze medals, beating Jamaica to the top spot with seven gold, two silver and three bronze. Team USA finished third with six gold, six silver and six bronze.
BROKE KENYAN RECORD
The achievements of Kenya’s pioneering javelin thrower Julius Yego and 400m hurdler Nicholas Bett highlighted the championship.
Yego broke the Kenyan record four times in season for the World javelin victory, the first by a Kenyan in field events as Bett became the first Kenya to win in sprints with gold in his speciality.
But the celebrations were cut short when two sprinters, Francisca Koki and Joyce Sakari, tested positive for banned substance Furosemide and were later handed four-year bans each following drug tests conducted at the team hotel.
Nevertheless, Kenya’s showing in Beijing was the best since the 2011 World Championships in Daegu, South Korea, where Kenya claimed 17 medals of seven gold, six silver and four bronze. The only other outing that came close to rivalling that performance was the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
It is Vivian Cheruiyot, who started Kenya’s gold rush when she reclaimed women’s 10,000m title, making her the first Kenyan woman to win four world titles. Cheruiyot, the 2011 World Cross champion, failed to defend her 5,000m and 10,000m titles at the 2013 Moscow Worlds after she took a maternity break.
Then 3,000m steeplechase legend Ezekiel Kemboi added another gold, his fourth World title with a commanding performance.
Olympic champion and 800m world record holder David Rudisha reclaimed his title with a flawless display before Bett’s historic moment in men’s 400m hurdles.
After his first throw failed to count, a tense Yego registered 82.42 metres in his second throw for a fifth overall place before a massive 92.72m in his third throw to wrap up the contest.
Yego’s new mark was enough to set new African record for the second time and the national record for the ninth time. It remains the World Lead and all time third best throw.
Hyvin Kiyeng would battle to the tape in a sensational performance in the women’s 3,000m steeplechase before Asbel Kiprop gave a blistering performance to clinch victory in the men’s 1,500m race and wrap up Kenya’s historic performance.
KEEP FINGERS CROSSED
It was Kiprop’s third consecutive title, a performance that brought the packed 80,000-seater Bird’s Nest Stadium to its feet. Silver medals came from Geofrey Kamworor (10,000m), Conseslus Kipruto 3,000m steeplechase, Caleb Mwangangi Ndiku (5,000m), Helah Kiprop (marathon), Elijah Motonei Manangoi (1,500m) and Faith Chepng’etich (1,500m).
However, Kenyans had to keep their fingers crossed as Jamaica took on America in the final of the 4x400 metres relay, which the Americans won as Kenya beat the Caribbean nation to first position in the overall medal standings.
On March 28, Team Kenya to Guiyang World Cross set the stage for the Beijing assault when Geoffrey Kamworor and Bedan Karoki, who had finished in that order at the nationals, staged similar show in men’s 12km race.
Jebet would become the youngest athlete to win senior women’s 8km race at 19 after race favourite, Faith Chepng’etich, withdrew with injury.
Team Kenya to the World Youth Championships held from July 15–19 in Cali, Colombia, finished second behind USA with five gold, four silver and four bronze medals. Kumari Taki, who had in June clinched the Africa title, won the 1,500m race with a championship record time of 3min,36.38secs.
Other winners were Vincent Kipyegon (2,000m steeplechase), Willy Tarbei (800m), Richard Yator (3,000m) and Celphine Chespol (2,000m steeplechase).
Kenyan athletes also performed well in the IAAF Diamond League (DL). Even though Yego didn’t win the overall series in javelin, he highlighted the season with the DL record, Africa Record and World Lead throw of 91.39m in Birmingham on June 7.
Kiprop (1,500m), Jairus Birech (3,000m steeplechase), Eunice Sum (800m) and surprise package Virginia Nyambura (3,000m steeplechase) won Diamond League Series in their respective events.
Kiprop claimed four wins in Oslo, London, Monaco and Zurich, with his victory in Monaco of 3:26.69 on July 17 just 0.69 seconds off the world record.
WON SH51 MILLION
Former World 5,000m champion Eliud Kipchoge continued to cement his name in marathon when he won this year’s London Marathon in 2:04:42 on April 26 before completing a brace in Berlin on September 27 in personal best and world lead of 2:04:00. The feat saw Kipchoge win the World Marathon Majors (WMM)for his share of Sh51 million (US$ 500,000) jackpot.
Kipchoge was among the Kenyans who won races in the WMM; Dickson Chumba (2:09:25) in Chicago and Stanley Biwott (2:10:34) New York City. The women performed much better, winning four out of six races, missing the title only in Tokyo.
It’s Glady Cherono who ran the fastest time in the world won, winning in Berlin in 2:19:25 in Berlin after Caroline Rotich won in Boston in 2:24:55. Florence Kiplagat also won in Chicago in 2:23:33 and Mary Keitany retained her New York City Marathon title in 2:24:45.