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Kenya wore the coveted crown

Wednesday December 29 2010

David Rudisha and Nancy Lagat display their trophies during the SOYA awards held at the KICC on December 10, 2010. PHOTO /  CORRESPONDENT

David Rudisha and Nancy Lagat display their trophies during the SOYA awards held at the KICC on December 10, 2010. PHOTO / CORRESPONDENT 

By CHRIS MUSUMBA [email protected]

In a year when there was little to do for the track and field athletes as regards national team assignments, many opted to utilise the chance to fully exploit their talent and skills running individual races.

2010 is the year Samuel Wanjiru retained the World Marathon Majors title to enter his name in the history books as the first athlete to successfully defend the crown. Since Robert “Mwafrika” Cheruiyot won the inaugural crown in 2007 no other athletes had hit a double in the Sh40 million race.

After Cheruiyot another Kenyan, Martin Lel, won in 2008. This confirms the domination of Kenyan athletes in marathon, where they have claimed the top 83 races in the top 100 in the world in 2010.

The season started on a losing streak as Kenya failed to clinch a gold medal at the World Indoor Championship in Doha, Qatar. With a team of eight, Kenya could only get two silver – through Vivian Cheuiyot in the 5,000 metres race and Nancy Jebet Lagat in the four laps.

Haron Keitany got bronze in 1,500m, just like Paul Kipsiele Koech in the 3,000m steeplechase.

Picked all the medals on offer

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But that quickly changed at the World Cross Country Championship in Bydgoszcz, Poland, where, for the first time, Kenya picked all the medals on offer save for two bronze that went to Ethiopia.

Such a feat was last achieved in 1994 in Budapest, Hungary, the season Paul Tergat bagged his first victory over the 12km senior men’s distance.

Mercy Cherono, Eunice Chebet, Caleb Mwangangi and Joseph Ebuye all won gold in the four different races while Kenya claimed all the team titles.

But while the trio has made history miles away from home, Kenya went on to cement its name in the history books when it hosted the Africa Athletics Championship in Nairobi in July where the home team sat atop the rivalry over long distance running against Ethiopians.

First sub-1:43 on African soil

Kenya emerged triumphant with the highest medal haul, sweeping all gold in the men’s 400m race to 10,000m while the women only lost the 10,000m race – to Ethiopia’s only winner, Tirunesh Dibaba.

At the championship, David Rudisha retained the 800m title with the first sub-1:43 time on African soil when he clocked 1 minute 42.84 seconds in leading a Kenyan sweep of the podium as Alfred Kirwa and Jackson Kivuva took silver and bronze, respectively.

Rudisha then went on a 14-race unbeaten streak, winning any event he entered. The climax of his victory was, however, two-fold: He exhibited consistence and won six out of the seven IAAF Diamond League races to become the World No.1 in the two-lap race.

Broke 13-year-old world record

In Brussels, Kenya scooped seven of the 32 titles on offer. Other winners were Janeth Jepkosgei in the women’s 800m, Nancy Jebet Lagat and Asbel Kiprop (1,500m), Milcah Chemos and Paul Kipsiele Koech (3,000m steeplechase) and Vivian Cheruiyot (5,000m).

Prior to Brussels, Rudisha would break a 13-year-old 1:41.11 world record, set by Kenyan-turned-Dane Wilson Kipketer in Cologne in 1997.

Having been the only athlete to have consistently run under the 1:43 mark in 2010, Rudisha stopped the clock at 1:41.09 at Berlin Olympic Stadium, shaving two-hundredth of a second off the original mark.

Ironically, it was here that in 2009 he finished third and outside the qualifying time for the World Championship finals. He would only five days later seal his IAAF Diamond League crown and then break his record in Rieti, Italy, in 1:41.01.

“Now the target is to run under the 1:41 mark,” said Rudisha. “My target was to run under 1:42 when I set the fourth fastest time in the world in Rieti in 2009 when I clocked 1:42.01. But failure to go under the 1:41 mark will be a disappointment.”

Victory at the World Continental Cup in Split City, Croatia, in September capped the competitive year for Rudisha, who skipped the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi.

Rudisha was named the IAAF Male Athlete of the Year, succeeding another icon, Jamaica’s Usain Bolt, the 2008 and 2009 winner.

Ended Games gold drought

Another Kenyan, Chemos, made the final five in the female category that was eventually won by Croatian high jumper Blanca Vlasic. This was also the season that Silas Kiplagat was discovered.

The youngster ended the men’s 1,500m Commonwealth Games gold medal drought for Kenya after he had become the fastest man in the world with a 3:29.27 Diamond League meeting victory in Monte Carlo.

Another Masai was born

In New Delhi, Kiplagat, 21, crossed the line in 3:41.79, well short of his season best set in his first appearance on the global arena in June in Monaco, ahead of compatriot James Magut and defending champion Nick Willis of New Zealand.

Kenya also roared at the World Junior Championship in Moncton, Canada, where Caleb Mwangangi and Mercy Cherono were among the winners while Dennis Masai, a younger brother of fleet-footed Masai siblings Moses and Linet, was born as he won the 10,000m race.

Kenya’s place as the king of middle- and long distance running faces another challenge in 2011 with the World Championship in Daegu, South Korea, the epitome of the shake.

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