Top Kenyan runners face-off as battle for the Lotto Athletics Kenya National Cross Country Championships titles goes down at the Ngong Racecourse on Saturday.
There will be new winners in both the senior men and women's categories after defending champions Amos Kirui and Hellen Obiri withdrew from the competition.
Kirui, who stunned a rich field to win the men’s title in Eldoret last year, said he has not trained and acclimatised well enough for the battle, having just arrived from his base in Japan.
Obiri, who won her maiden National Cross Country honours on her way to also clinching her first World Cross Country title last year, had earlier withdrawn over a back injury.
“Our national competition is the toughest, it’s like a mini world event hence one must be well prepared physically and mentally,” said Kirui, who wished his South Rift teammates and the rest of the competitors a successful event.
READY IN MAY
Kirui, the 2016 World Under-20 3,000m steeplechase champion, who is training in Keringet, Nakuru County, said he will be ready for the track season beginning with the World Athletics Continental Tour on May 2 in in Nairobi.
However, Kirui’s absence will necessarily watered down the competition in the men’s 10km, which has attracted some of the world’s top athletes including three former champions Geoffrey Kamworor, Bedan Karoki and Philemon Rono all from Kenya Police Service.
Japan-based Karoki, who won silver during the 2015 World Cross Country, has the best record in the pack, having won the diadem three times in 2012, 2014 while Kamworor, the 2015 and 2017 World Cross Country champion, claimed the honours in 2016 and 2018.
Rono had his moment of glory in 2013.
Athletics Kenya will use the championships to select Team Kenya for the Africa Cross Country Championships due April 8 in Lome, Togo.
“It feels great to make the Police team again and I am confident of sealing my fourth crown come Saturday even though the field looks strong,” said Karoki, who is preparing for Tokyo Marathon due March 1 in the Japanese capital.
Kamworor, who sealed his seventh victory at Kenya Police Service event last month, is pulling out all stops to ensure that he succeeds in securing a hat-trick.
In March last year, Kamworor failed to defend his world title after settling for bronze but would claim the Copenhagen Half Marathon in a world record time of 58:01 and his second New York City Marathon the same year.
Kamworor, who will be defending his World Half Marathon title this March 29 in Gdynia, Poland and the Police team, face strong opposition from the 2016 Africa Cross Country bronze medallist Charles Muneria.
Muneria leads Prisons teammates Emmanuel Ngatuny, Albert Tonui, Wilfred Kimitei and Peter Emase with the World Under-20 3,000m silver medallist Leonard Bett spearheading South Rift’s assault that has Julius Tanki and Wesley Kimutai.
Nairobi’s Silas Kiptoo will also be in the mix with Kenya Defence Forces’ winner Kibiwott Kandie also training his guns on the title alongside teammate Alfred Barkach among others.
KDF's Joyciline Jepkosgei, who is also the World Half Marathon record holder, Dorcas Kimeli, Irene Kamais, Perin Nenkampi and Caroline Jeptoo will attempt to keep the title Obiri won last year.
Two former champions Stacy Ndiwa (2018) of Kenya Police Service and Margaret Wangari (2013) of Nyanza North, will be seeking to recapture to the title.
Ndiwa will team up with Kenya Police Service champion Jackline Cherotich, the 2018 Kenya Police winner Margaret Chelimo, Lilian Chebii, Caroline Nyaga and 2013 World 5,000m silver medallist Mercy Cherono.
Kenya Prisons Service have also unleashed some of their stars led by 2017 World Cross Country bronze medallist Lilian Kasait, Rosemary Wanjiru, Loice Chemunung and Caren Chebet.
Former World Half Marathon champions Peres Jepchirchir and Gladys Cherono will lead Central Rift and South Rift’s s assault respectively while Sandrafelis Chebet will be the focal point for the Nairobi team.
7am: Teams arrival
8am: Officials Assembly
9am: 2km fun run for schools
10am: Women’s Under-18 5km
10.40am: Men’s Under-18 6km
11.20am: Women’s Under-20 6km
12 pm: men’s Under-20 8km
12.40pm: Speeches and presentation
1.20pm: Women’s 10km
2pm: Men’s 10km
2.40pm: Mixed Relays
3.10pm: Awards/team naming