This is indeed turning out to be a horror year for University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) freshman Michael Saruni.
In June, Saruni was headed to the podium at the US collegiate 800 metres national finals at Hayward Field, Eugene, but took a nasty fall on the penultimate curve to bring up the rear in a race won by fellow Kenyan and UTEP college-mate Emmanuel Korir.
However, Saruni pulled himself together, and, from his little student savings, purchased an air ticket and made the long-haul trip to Nairobi in June for a stab at a hard-to-get place in ‘Team Kenya’ to next month’s IAAF World Championships in London.
'EASY' WAY OUT
Armed with the assurance that the first three athletes across the line would be on the flight to Heathrow, Saruni, a criminal justice student at UTEP, dug in to finish just behind the cruising Korir (one minute, 43.86 seconds) and Kipyegon Bett (1:44.04) in a personal best 1:44.61, happy that he had secured his boarding pass to the English capital.
But, alas, the wonders of Kenyan team selection never cease to amaze, and with the trip to London just next week, it’s now emerging that Athletics Kenya may have jettisoned the Ravine-born, 22-year-old collegiate star off the flight to London as an “easy” way out of their selection miasma.
Championship rules allow only four athletes to be selected in races where a country has a defending champion and/or Diamond League winner, and in Kenya’s case, Ferguson Rotich (Diamond League winner) and David Rudisha (defending champion) each held a wild card. Meaning that AK had five qualified athletes!
However, with only four slots available, the argument has been over who, among the five, should be dropped.
Of course not Korir, who at the weekend proved his form by clocking a season’s lead 1:43.10 at the Stade Louis II Stadium in Monte Carlo during the Monaco Diamond League meeting.
Korir boasts three of the five fastest times over the two laps in the world this season, and has become the poster boy at UTEP in his freshman year, holding the university’s record over the two-lap race which he bettered in Monaco last weekend.
No, not Bett! By right, Bett also deserves the trip to London thanks to his second place finish at the Nyayo National Stadium trials, his time of 1:44.04 the fifth fastest in the world this year.
He has shown consistency by running 1:44.28 (Rabat) and 1:44.36 (Paris) this season and, at just 21 years of age, he is, really, what Kenya needs in the build-up to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
No, not Saruni! Perhaps his studies in criminal justice at Texas will hold him in good stead so that he can help throw unscrupulous selectors in jail (well, it’s never that serious...).
For a freshman in his first year at an American university, it would deal Saruni a major psychological blow if he is left out of ‘Team Kenya’ because he has also shown promise, running 1:45.82 at the Texas Relays before improving his PB to 1:44.61 at the Nyayo National Stadium trials.
Of course not David Rudisha! He is the face of the 800 metres and the defending champion.
In the words of Paul Ereng, the Kenyan legend who coaches both Saruni and Korir at UTEP, and who struck gold for Kenya in the 800 metres race at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, “Rudisha is still king of the 800m until he is dethroned on the track.”
This leaves AK with the inevitable yet painful task of asking Ferguson Rotich to pave way for the quartet of Korir, Bett, Saruni and Rudisha. And the sooner they do it, the better, so that the four can be in the right frame of mind in the build-up to the London competition which is barely 10 days away.
“Saruni is a special guy, but the only problem is that this selection indecision and the whole setup is affecting him psychologically,” Ereng told me in a telephone chat from Texas on Monday night.
“There is no need second-guessing (Saruni’s selection). Korir is the top guy in the world this year and there is also Bostwana’s Nijel Amos and Donovan Brazier of USA (who has run 1:43.95 this season),” he added.
END THE CRICUS
“But Saruni can destroy Brazier any time and he has beaten him before... then, of course, we have Kipyegon Bett, who is only 21, while Rudisha is the most experienced of the lot and will have to fight with these youngsters.
“These are the best 800 metres runners in the world this year. Ferguson was beaten fair and square at the trials... and at 20, 21 and 22, Korir, Bett and Saruni are the faces of Kenya’s 800 metres for a long time to come...”
Who would argue with Ereng’s passionate analysis?
AK selectors should just end the circus, drop Rotich and hand Saruni his ticket to London!
Remember what happened with the 5,000m and 10,000m selection indecision ahead of the Rio Olympics last year?
Yet we question why frustrated Kenyan athletes take up American and Gulf passports?
Do we ever learn?