IN RIO DE JANEIRO
Not since the days of Ethiopian living legend Haile Gebrselassie have Kenyans had a more formidable opponent in the men’s 10,000m than a certain Mo Farah of the Great Britain.
The bad news is that the man who denied Kenyans gold over the distance at the Olympics four years ago and then at the last two editions of the World Athletics Championships will be seeking to do it again in Rio today (3:37am Sunday in Kenya).
Worse is the fact that after the 10,000m, Kenyans will still have to contend with the Farah factor in the 5,000m event.
Farah will certainly be the name that stands out even as a Kenyan trio led by world cross country champion and IAAF World Half Marathon Championship, Geoffrey Kamworor mounts a challenge.
However, there has been a long standing feeling in the Kenyan camp that as much as the Briton may appear to be invincible, he really is fallible.
Last year at the World Championships in Beijing, China, Commonwealth Games and African 5,000m champion, Caleb Mwangangi showed that determination to upstage Farah by taking the Briton head-on in the 12-lap race only to wilt in the wake of Farah’s devastating final kick.
Then early this season in Cardiff, Kamworor got a small measure of revenge on Farah, to whom he lost to at the world championships, by beating him over 21km.
This was the clearest hint yet of a Kenyan strategy to end Farah’s dominance on the track.
Now Rio de Janeiro presents yet another opportunity for Kenyans to not only get even with Farah but also land that 10,000m gold that has surprisingly eluded them for nearly half a century, ever since the late Naftali Temu triumphed at the 1968 Games in Mexico City.
The same cast of Kamworor, Paul Tanui and Bedan Karoki, that finished behind Farah in second, third and fourth positions respectively will attempt to scale that frontier in Rio.
Should the three Kenyans actually get the better of Farah it will only count for something if they also manage to ward off a youthful Ethiopian challenge spearheaded by Yigrem Demelash, who holds the world leading time this year of 26:51.11.
Also in the Ethiopian team is Tamirat Tola, 25, and 18-year-old newcomer by the name Abadi Rmbaye Hadis.
Not to be written off too is 2012 Olympics silver medallist, Galen Rupp, of the United States, who was fifth in Beijing last year.
The American, who shares a coach with Farah, will be using the 10,000m race as dress rehearsal for the men’s marathon race on the final day of the Olympics.
Also on Sunday will be the women’s 3,000m steeplechase first round.
Anybody’s race this one. It is one event where the starting list in the final is likely to feature evenly matched athletes who have been posting very fast times in the course of the season.
For a start, there is the Kenyan trio of Hyvin Kiyeng, Beatrice Chepkoech, Lydia Rotich for whom the lack of a clear favourite could be what they need to stamp their authority on the Rio track.
On paper, though, 23-year-old Kiyeng, who won her first major title last year at the World Championships in Beijing China, will be among the front-runners, alongside defending Olympic champion, Habiba Ghribi, of Tunisia, whom she pipped to silver.
Then there are the seasoned ones such as Gesa Felicitas Krause of Germany, won the bronze medal in Beijing, 2013 world bronze medallist Sofia Assefa from Ethiopia and US champion Emma Coburn, who was fifth in Beijing last year.
There is also Bahrain’s former world junior champion Ruth Jebet, who earlier in the same sounded a warning to her rivals with victory at the Eugene leg of the IAAF Diamond League meeting in a breath-taking 8:59.98 for what remains to be the world leader this year.
Its important to note that in that particular race, Kiyeng came a close second for her best personal time of 9:00.01.
If you add two more Ethiopians in the shape of Etenesh Diro and Hiwot Ayalew, who are all considered as potential finalists, then you have an event that could explode as was the case in Beijing when Kiyeng powered past Krause and Ghribi in the final meters to clinch gold in a race full of drama.
The other Kenyan, Rotich will be making a second stub at the Olympics following her debut four years ago in London where she bowed out at the heats.
Chepkoech is more of a late entrant. The 25-year-old with a personal best of 9:17.41 is making her debut at the Olympics against athletes who have faster times.
So who among these athletes, will reign in Rio? Well, its rather too early to make such a prediction even as the heats begin Saturday at 4.05pm Kenyan time.
However, there are talks of a probable new world record being set here if both Kiyeng and Jebet go into the race with the same level of aggression that they have displayed so far this season.
Record or no record, whoever takes her chances will be crowned the new Olympic champion.