The countdown to next month’s 37th IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Amman hits the home stretch with Nairobi’s Ngong Racecourse hosting the national championships and trials this Saturday.
And this time round, all four races on the card will produce fireworks, with the junior women’s six-kilometre race expected to be a cracker.
For long, this race has not been as open as it will be this weekend with a stellar cast of in-form athletes expected to line up at the start, including two world age-group champions.
World 3,000 metre junior champion, Mercy Cherono, and world youth 3,000m steeplechase gold medallist, Christine Kambua Muyanga, will come up against the in-form Nelly Chebet, Jackline Chebii, Hilda Chepkemoi and Fridah Kaimuri in a bid to make the Kenya team to the March 28 world meet in Amman, Jordan.
However, the Japan-based Muyanga is not quite in shape, battling to ward off a nagging hamstring injury. She awaits a late fitness test before plunging into the championships.
“I have to wait until Wednesday to see if I will be fit. I have started running, but the trials need one to be 100 percent fit. If my coach (Paul Mutwii) will not endorse me to run, then I will most likely watch from the terraces,” said Muyanga who runs for electronics giants Panasonic in Japan.
Cherono, a disappointing 23rd at the 35th IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Mombasa a couple of years back, is well placed to make the Kenyan team to Amman.
“I am back. I had an ankle injury but, as you see, it has healed,” the Kericho-based runner said at Nairobi’s Posta grounds after winning the junior race at the city’s provincial championships.
However, her performance did not quite convince national coach, Julius Kirwa, who said she lacked the endurance to wear out the opposition.
“This year, we have a very strong squad in the junior women’s race,” the coach said. “Cherono has run in too many races which might cost her in the trials. She has lost her endurance and she is struggling. But she has it all within her grasp to correct it,” said Kirwa.
The coach’s comments should act as motivation for Cherono to prove her critics wrong and call the shots on Saturday, just as she did at the Athletics Kenya series in Kericho before winning the Eldoret Wareng cross country and placing second in AK’s Nyahururu round.
She faces team-mates from her Kiptenden Athletics Club in Kericho including Hilda Chepkemoi - who triumphed in Eldoret, Nyahururu and was second in Kisii - Jackline Chebii, fourth in Edinburgh at last year’s world cross, and Nelly Chebet, the World Junior Championships’ 5,000m bronze medallist in Bydgoszcz, Poland.
The group will be wary of the challenge expected from the fast-rising Fridah Kaimuri from Meru.
Kaimuri won the Machakos and Meru legs of the Athletics Kenya series and stunned pundits by scooping the senior women’s eight-kilometre race at the Eastern Championships after registering to run with the big girls following her late arrival that saw her miss the junior women’s race.
Chebet, a winner in Meru trains with Riruta Satellite School under coach Gregory Kilonzo.
The coach will field three runners - Chebet, Elizabeth Mueni, a silver medallists in the 3,000m steeplechase at the World Junior Championships, and Chrisenta Cheruto.
Irene Chebet Cheptai, silver medallist in Edinburgh last year, has only competed in one local race since the start of the season, finishing fourth in Eldoret, and is among those seeking to make a comeback to global competition.
She will line up on Saturday alongside Jane Onyami, Judith Ngatunyi, Faith Mogaka and Rose Moroga, all from Nyanza South.
Southern branch, under Mutwii, will have, among others Maurine Mitinda, Fridah Mwikali, Lucia Muia, Stacy Ndiwa and Judith Chepkeoech.
After winning the junior medals in Mombasa, Kenya fell in Edinburgh to arch-rivals Ethiopia as Genzebe Dibaba and Emebt Etea sandwiched Cheptai to scoop gold and bronze.
The first four across the line on Saturday qualify automatically with AK using the wild card system to pick the two other team members. Of the six, only four will score in Amman.