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Battle looms in steeplechase

Saturday June 23 2012

Kenya’s Paul Kipsiele Koech celebrates winning the 3,000 metres steeplechase event during the Diamond League athletics meeting in Rome, Italy, on May 31, 2012. Photo/AFP

Kenya’s Paul Kipsiele Koech celebrates winning the 3,000 metres steeplechase event during the Diamond League athletics meeting in Rome, Italy, on May 31, 2012. Photo/AFP 

By AYUMBA AYODI

On Saturday, the men's 3,000 metres steeplechase battle will produce a team that will ensure Kenya’s dominance over the race is upheld at the London Olympic Games.

It is the reign that Amos Biwott started at the 1968 Munich Games before it was interrupted by the boycotts of 1976 and 1980. Kenya then chalked up unprecedented back-to-back victories in six Games since Los Angeles ’84.

Those who have kept Kenya firmly at the top are Julius Korir (1984), Julius Kariuki (’88), Matthew Birir (’92), Joseph Keter (’96), Reuben Kosgei (2000), Ezekiel Kemboi (2004) and Brimin Kipruto (2008).

This year’s trials at Nyayo National Stadium present one of the most competitive with the three fastest athletes this season – Paul Kipsiele Koech, Olympic bronze medallist Richard Mateelong and newly crowned Africa Abel Kiprop Mutai – clashing.

It is fascinating that Olympic defending champion Brimin Kipruto and World champion Ezekiel Kemboi are not in top 10 this season, at a time when Kipsiele has three of his times in the leading 10.

Two of Kipsiele’s times are world leads – 7:56.58 at his Doha Diamond League’s opener and a sizzling 7:54.31 in Roma.

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With a personal best of 7:54.31 and a fourth-place finish in 2009 Berlin Worlds, he is known to perform better abroad.

Plotting London victory

Kipsiele edged to second place both Commonwealth Games champion and 2009 Berlin Worlds silver medallist Mateelong, who posted a third best 7:56.81, in Doha and Mutai in Roma in a fourth best 8:01.67.

Kipruto has run only one race this season – a slow 8:26.59 in Doha.

The 2007 Osaka Worlds and Athens Olympics silver medallist won the Beijing Games in 8:10.34 and missed Saif Saaeed Shaheen’s world record by 0.1 seconds with his national record and PB 7:53.6 in Monaco last year.

After his exploits in Daegu Worlds, Kemboi yearns for his second Olympic title with Matelong, who is a two-time Africa champion also aiming for London.

Two-time world 3,000m steeplechase bronze medallist Milcah Chemos is already plotting a London victory after ploughing a world leading 9:07.14 in Oslo on June 9.

The time was an African and Kenyan record, erasing Eunice Jepkorir’s 7:09.41 set in Beijing.

Jepkorir presence will make the race tight, what with Commonwealth champion Mercy Wanjiku Njoroge (9:16.9) and Lydiah Chebet Rotich (9:19.2) all vying for the tickets alongside World Junior 3,000m steeplechase champion Purity Cherotich (9:35.6).

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