Efforts to break the Ethiopian stranglehold start on Saturday when a field of Kenya’s top runners line up to vie for places in the Amman team.
Paul Tergat has been retired from the cross country running since 2000, a year after Kenya’s last world championships gold medal in the senior men’s 12km race, which he won in Belfast, Ireland - an unprecedented fifth consecutive individual title by the legendary athlete.
The Kenya Air Force officer’s act has been difficult for local runners to follow. Every attempt in the last decade to win back the title has been repulsed by the Ethiopians who have won six of the last nine titles courtesy of a certain Kenenisa Bekele. Other winners were Belgian Mohammed Mourhit and Eritrea’s Zersenay Tadese, the latter in Mombasa two years ago.
Such are the statistics in the men’s 12km race as the athletes’ campaign to the March race remains delicately balanced on a knife’s edge.
Even coach Julius Kirwa cannot venture a prediction and can only wait for final result. “In this race, it is difficult to predict who will win,” he said.
It is a race in which the reputation of senior and experienced runners will be tested by younger athletes as they seek to to carve out places for themselves in the in the senior events on graduating from the junior ranks
Fresh Armed Forces recruit, Vincent Kiprop, has just completed his compulsory military training and won the Force’s championship.
There is also World Junior Championships silver medallist in 5,000m race Mathew Kisorio, Leonard Komon (silver medallist in Edinburgh), Levi Matebo and Mangata Ndiwa.
Kiprop, Kisorio and Komon finished in that order in Mombasa in 2007 in the 8km junior men race which was won by Asbel Kiprop. Asbel, has since focused on track.
Then there is also the 2006 World Cross Country Championships junior winner Mangata Ndiwa who appears to be making a successful transition to the senior races. He has shaken a hamstring injury and looks set to ruffle some feathers in the elite club.
Another man who has recovered and is pushing for recognition is Abraham Chebii. He returns from a career threatening thigh injury and the short course silver medallist at the 2005 cross country championships (St Etienne-St Galmier) hopes to win against a classy field.
But they have to contend with the veterans who include 2007 silver medallist Moses Mosop, Eliud Kipchoge, Isaac Songok, Kiprono Menjo, Martin Irungu Mathathi, Moses Masai, Gideon Ngatuny, Barnabas Kosgei, Peter Kosgei and Thomas Longosiwa. Mosop, nick named engine kubwa (big engine) is keen to make up for time lost having stayed out of competition last season with a leg injury.
His endurance and determination has won the attention of national coach Julius Kirwa. His absence in Edinburgh, Scotland last year was reflected in the results returned by the Kenyan team with only Komon securing a silver medal. Yet even his top form is no assurance he will make the team to Amman.
Kenya Police, who have been instrumental in the senior men’s race will be represented by among others, Sammy Kitwara, Masai, Joel Kimurer, Mosop, Ngatuny and Songok.
They will need to be at their best to beat off the challenge from the Armed Forces team. Look out also for the Kenya Prisons and Administration Police teams.