Emotions ran high, some dreams shattered while others came true as 24 of the country’s finest athletes on the day penned their names as the next patriots to fly the national flag high at the World Cross Country Championships in Amman, Jordan, on March 28.
And there will be no time to waste. The team moves to camp today for a one-month residential training programme at the Kigari Teachers Training College under coach Julius Kirwa, David Leting and John ‘Warm-up’ Mwithiga.
In a race that Kenya has won 25 out of the 36 times it has been staged, it was always going to be tough to select the final representatives from thousands of elite long distance runners the country is famed for.
The list had been wilted down to just 416 and only six in each of the four events - senior men 12km, senior women 8km, junior men 8km and junior women 6km - were to make the cut.
While top names were conversant with the unpredictable and explosiveness of the trials felled by the way, it was a battle that the juniors triumphed as they seek to carve a place for themselves within the chocking senior cadres.
Tears of joy for the chosen few flowed easily, so much that they could flood a lake.
For those who made the team, it was time to thank God and celebrate their fortune; for the unlucky, they cursed and lived to fight another day.
“This is not the end of the championship. I will still get my chance to revenge. I had trained hard and was in top form, but I got a stitch and that was my end. I could not do anything about it,” said Pauline Korikwiang, after she finished 14th in the senior women’s race.
But to her surprise, the coach’s wild card entries favoured her and she will be part of the team to Amman. And so was World cross country senior men silver medallist, Leonard Patrick Komon.
He was 20th in the men’s 12km race but still made the team. Others who benefited from the wild card are Mangata Ndiwa, Titus Mbishei, Charles Bett Chepkurui, Ann Karindi, Faith Chepngetich and Nelly Chebet.
The harsh conditions at Ngong Race Course with temperatures over 25 degrees was not so lenient to many.
Proved a point
Among the big names who faltered were World 5,000m silver medallist Eliud Kipchoge, Edwin Soi (third in Beijing Olympics 5,000m), Asbel Kiprop, Delvin Meringor, Vincent Kiprop, a silver medallist in 2007 Mombasa in junior men race, Josephat Bett, the world junior 10,000m champion, Margaret Wangari, Peninah Arusei, Irene Limika and Grace Momanyi.
For Mercy Cherono, she had a point to prove against head coach Julius Kirwa. Afraid that she would be worn out by Saturday’s race, Kirwa had cautioned Cherono not to run in too many build up meetings. But she defiled him and prove her prowess at Ngong Race Course.
It was also a major comeback for winners of men and women senior races. Moses Mosop and Florence Kiplagat have returned from a long injury lay off and restored their dominance.
And so is Lineth Chepkurui of the Armed Forces.
Commonwealth Youth Games 5,000m bronze medallist Japhet Korir will get his second trip abroad after his debut in Pune, India, with the junior men 8km so will be Paul Tanui and John Kemboi.
Tanui, 19, banished from last year’s team to Edinburgh because he had no experience in using shoes, was a new revelation giving the head coach no chance of dropping him. A first year student at the Keroka Technical Training Institute in Kisii, he is determined to silence his critics.
“Previously the shoes made me feel uncomfortable. That is why the coach asked me to go home,” he said.
That inspired him to change tact and Tanui has since been running using shoes. One year down the line, he has perfected it and taken the battle to his opponents. He was third in Machakos and fourth in Meru Athletics Kenya weekend meetings. But now he hit the jackpot and will be headed to Amman.
“I knew I had the energy and form to carry me through. It is good to make the team. I will train hard to make sure I succeed in Amman,” he said.