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Incentives galore as Kenya cross stars depart

Tuesday March 24 2009

Kenya’s head coach Julius Kirwa (right) introduces members of the junior women’s team to the World Cross Country Championships.

Kenya’s head coach Julius Kirwa (right) introduces members of the junior women’s team to the World Cross Country Championships, from right, Jackline Chebii, Hilda Chepkemoi, Faith Chepngetich, Nelly Chebet, Delvin Meringor and Mercy Cherono at the team’s farewell lunch sponsored by the Kenya Commercial Bank on Tuesday. The team left for the World Cross Country Championships in Amman on Tuesday night. Photos/ MOHAMMED AMIN 

By CHRIS MUSUMBA

After a month of hard work, the Kenya team is ready to take the battle to the opposition’s turf and will be inspired to win as a huge cash bonus of Sh3 million is at stake for winners at this year’s World Cross Country Championships which will be held on Saturday in Amman.

Sports minister Helen Sambili on Tuesday led government dignitaries, sponsors and athletics officials in a farewell luncheon for the 24-member team which will be seeking to wrest both the individual and team titles at the 37th edition of the global championship in the Jordanian capital.

“This is the longest time you have been in the camp. I am impressed with the discipline and commitment that you have shown. Some of you are students and staying away from class for one month is no gamble if you are not focused on winning,” said Sambili.

Impressive reputation

However, Kenya Commercial Bank, who sponsored the national cross country series, cautioned the athletes against resting on their laurels.

The bank’s chief executive noted that Kenya’s reputation in the championship was impressive and although they might have lifted the overall team title 22 times, complacence might just creep in.

“You must not get your eyes off the target. Be focused and remember even the team title that has known Kenya more than any other country can slip through your fingers,” said the bank’s chief executive officer, Martin Oduor-Otieno.

KCB will reward gold medallists with Sh250,000 while the government will add another Sh300,000 while the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) will pay the winners of both men’s and women’s senior races Sh2.4 million ($30,000).

KCB also confirmed it will renew its annual sponsorship to Athletics Kenya for the cross country series.

The government has also spent an additional Sh2 million to buy the team 16 air tickets and, for the first time, the Kenyan team will travel aboard the national flier, Kenya Airways, to Dubai and connect to Amman using Jordanian Airlines.

A total of 69 countries will be keen to claim the titles in Amman and Kenya will be seeking to safeguard its glory and enhance its reputation by bringing home the individual titles for the four races - junior men’s eight kilometres, junior women’s six kilometres, senior women’s eight kilometres and senior men’s 12 kilometres.

Five times world cross country champion, the legendary John Ngugi, who was at the lunch yesterday, wished the team well and noted that for many years, Ethiopians wanted to beat him without success.

“Go and bring us back our glory. I did it in my days and what makes you inferior? It is in your hands and I believe you can do it,” Ngugi said.

Ngugi and another five times world cross country champion, Paul Tergat, made a surprise visit and trained with the team in Embu on Sunday.

Daily Nation’s athletics writer Chris Musumba will be in Amman to bring you unrivalled coverage on the 37th IAAF World Cross Country Championships.

Tergat pointed out that the reason why it has been hard for the local athletes to triumph in the senior men’s and women’s races has all been the attitude of the athletes. He said the training has always been harmonised but conflicting instruction are to blame.

“It is true that we left a big gap when we moved on. But Kenya has been churning out new talent each day. Attitude has been an issue and now, that has changed, they are all focused and it is a good sign for the things to come,” he said.

In the senior men’s 12 km race, Kenya won the world championships for an astounding 18 years in a row, from 1986 to 2003, a record of unequalled international success.

Carlos Lopes (Portugal), was the first man to win the 12km race three times, John Ngugi strolled through the folklore to become the first man to win five times while Paul Tergat cemented his name in the records as the first man to win five times in a row.

Though, since then Ethiopia’s Kenenisa Bekele won both the short and long courses five years in a row. Last year he secured his sixth long course championships, the most in the event history.

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