Athletics fans will be treated to a battle of titans when the athletes line up for the National Cross Country Championships at Eldoret Sports Club in Uasin Gishu County on Saturday.
The championship, which will be live on NTV, will be used to select a team to represent Kenya in the 43rd edition of the IAAF World Cross Country Championships to be held in Aarhus, Denmark, on March 30.
About 500 athletes will battle for the 28 national team slots in the competition which will be hosted by Athletics Kenya at the Eldoret Sports Club from 2pm.
Athletes who will contest for places in Team Kenya today qualified from various competitions, among them Athletics Kenya weekend cross country series, and the Regional cross country championships. The participants were also drawn from trials held by the disciplined forces.
The championship, held outside Nairobi for the first time, is expected to attract a large number of athletics fans, estimated at more than 10,000 by organisers.
The day’s programme will start in the morning, with communities from the North Rift region showcasing their culture followed by children’s competitions on the same course that will be used by competitors from 2pm.
"We shall have small kids competing in 2km races on the course as a curtain-raiser for the main event," local organizing committee chairman Abraham Mutai said on Friday.
Junior women will be the first to compete in the 6km race at exactly 2pm, followed by junior men’s 8km race. The senior women’s 10km race will follow next, paving the way for senior men’s 10km race. The curtains will come down on the championships with the mixed relays race before a team to represent Kenya in the World Cross Country Championships is named.
National Police Service who are the defending champions in the senior categories and in the mixed relays will come up against stiff competition from Kenya Defence Forces, Kenya Prisons and various regions which have fielded strong fields.
The North Rift region, known to produce top athletes, will be led by various world-beaters including World Under-20 10,000 metres champion Rhonex Kipruto and World Under-20 champion in 5,000m Edward Zakayo. The two are on record saying that they will fight to the tape as they eye places in Team Kenya.
Other big names that will compete in senior men’s race are defending champion Geoffrey Kamworor, World Cross Country silver medallist Leonard Barsoton, and World Cross Country junior bronze medallist Richard Kimunyan.
"Athletics is becoming more challenging, with many good youngsters coming through but our time is not up yet. They will have it rough in the race," Kamworor told Nation Sport on Friday.
Kipruto said he is going for nothing short of glory.
"We have had good preparations in anticipation of a tough race. I want to represent Kenya again in a global event, so we will fight to the end," said Kipruto.
A tough battle beckons in senior women’s 10km race which has attracted 2015 World Cross Country Agnes Tirop, Stacy Ndiwa, World 5,000m champion Hellen Obiri, World Under-20 champion in 3,000m steeplechase Cellphine Chespol among others.
The junior women’s race will feature World Under-20 5,000m champion Beatrice Chebet, World Under-18 800m silver medallist Lydia Jeruto, Felishana Kanda, Agnes Chebet among others.
Junior men’s 8km race will see World Under-20 3,000m steeplechase silver medallist Leonard Bett battle it out with Kennedy Kiprop, Kiprono Sitonik, Reuben Longosiwa among others.
AK President Lt. Gen. (Rtd) Jackson Tuwei said Kenya will pick a strong team as the country seeks to defend its title in Denmark.
"We are confident that the team which will be selected will be able to defend the title we won in Kampala in 2017 and even increase the number of medals," said Tuwei.