The 2018 season will go down as one of the best for Kenyan juniors as they dominated the World Under-20 Championships in Tampere, Finland, the Africa Youth Games in Algiers, and the Youth Olympics in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
The season saw the continued resurgence of Edward Zakayo, Cellphine Chespol, Beatrice Chebet, Rhonex Kipruto, Stanley Waithaka, Jackson Kavesa and Edna Jebitok.
And to crown it all for the sport’s national body Athletics Kenya, the IAAF Council session on July 26 in Buenos Aires picked Nairobi as the host city of the next edition of the World Athletics Under-20 Championships set for July 7-12, 2020.
This followed a largely successfully World Under-18 Championships held in Nairobi last year which drew a record turnout of over 60,000 fans attending the event at Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani.
Kenya dominated to top the medal standings for the fourth time during the World Under-20 Championships held from July 10–15 in Tampere after the country’s previous exploits in Santiago 2000 in Chile; Beijing 2006 in China and Moncton 2010 in Canada.
Kenya collected 11 medals; six gold, four silver and one bronze; performances highlighted by the 1-2 sweep by Zakayo and Waithaka in the 5,000 metres final and the historic victory by Chebet in the women’s 5,000m in what could be excellent content for a blockbuster Hollywood movie.
What made it a cracker is that Kenya’s sensational juniors claimed sweet revenge against Selemon Barega from Ethiopia, who had beaten them the previous year in the World Under-18 Championships in Nairobi.
Before taking on the feared Barega, the 17-year-old Zakayo won the Kenyan 5,000m trials and went on to claim bronze at the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, losing the battle to defending champion Uganda’s promising star Joshua Cheptegei and Mohamed Ahmed from Canada
After winning the Kenyan trials, Zakayo, who had settled for silver in 3,000m a the World Under-18 Championships, would go on to claim sweet revenge against Barega in 13:20.16, snatching the World Under-20 5,000m title from the Ethiopian. Barega won the title in 2016 Bydgoszcz, Poland.
Waithaka settled for silver 13:20.57 as Swede Jakob Ingebrigtsen also denied Barega a medal, going for bronze as the Ethiopian settled fourth.
The form two student at Kapsait High school would then go on to win the Africa 5,000m title in Asaba, Nigeria, beating experienced Getaneh Molla from Ethiopia and Eritrean Yemane Haile Selassie.
Waithaka, 18, had early in the year won the National Cross Country Championships Under-20 men title before settling for silver in junior men’s race at the Africa Cross Country Championships in Chlef, Algeria.
Notably, Waithaka made his entry to the Diamond League, clocking personal best 13:10.14 to finish third in 5,000m in Shanghai.
Kipruto won the 10,000m race during the Kenyan trials on his way to winning the World Under-20 10,000m title in a championship record time of 27:21.08 in Tampere, Finland.
Kipruto, 19, had won the Africa Cross Country Under-20 men’s title in Chlef, Algeria in March, exerting revenge against Waithaka, who had beaten them at the Kenyan championships.
It also worth noting that on September 8 in the Czech Republic, Kipruto affirmed his status as one of world’s most promising distance runners when he won the Prague Grand Prix 10km race in a course record time of 26:46, missing compatriot Leonard Patrick Komon’s world record time of 26:44 by just two seconds.
The time is still the fastest in 10km road races this year.
After bagging the World Under-18 Championships 1,500m title in Nairobi last year, George Manangoi, 18, seems to be fully following in the footsteps of his elder brother World and Commonwealth Games 1,500m champion Elijah. He added the World Under-20 1,500m title to his collection with victory in 3:41.71 in Tampere.
The younger Manangoi finished second in Doha (1,500m) and Monaco (1,000m) respectively on his maiden season at the 2018 Diamond League.
Then came Solomon Lekuta. The 19-year-old, who is not related to 800m world record holder David Rudisha, won the Kenyan trials on his way to clinching the World Under-20 800m title, clocking 1:46.35 to lead compatriot Ng’eno Kipngetich (1:46.45 PB) in a 1-2 finish in Tampere. Five days later, Lekuta went on to win the 1,000m race in Monaco on his debut in the Diamond League.
The 19-year-old Chebet, who won the Kenyan trials made history as the first Kenyan girl to win women’s 5,000m title at the World Under-20 when she clocked personal best 15:30.77 for the top accolade in Tampere.
Then Chespol would make it a routine to once again to crash her won Championship Record in retaining her World Under-20 3,000m steeplechase, this time around in 9:12.79. Chespol went on to settle for silver in 3,000m at the Africa Championships in Asaba, where Beatrice Chepkoech ruled.
Miriam Cherop, the 2016 Africa Cross Country Under-20 champion, won this year’s National Cross Country Under-20 title. She finished second at the Kenyan trials on her way to securing silver medal in women’s 1,500m in Tampere.
Kenya won 11 medals in athletics at the Africa Youth Games held July 18-28 in Algiers, Algeria to finish fourth in athletics and 10th overall in the medal standings. They would finish second in athletics with four medals; three gold and one silver at Olympic Youth Games held October 6 to 18 in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Ita Nao, 18 is fast becoming the apparent heir to 2014 Commonwealth and 2015 World javelin thrower champion Julius Yego. Nao hauled 67.18 metres to claim silver at the Africa Youth Games before finishing fourth at the Youth Olympic Games in personal best 74.52m.
Jackson Kavesa claimed bronze in 3,000m at the Africa Youth Championships losing the battle to Berihu Aregawi (Ethiopia) 7:50.98 and Oscar Chelimo (Uganda) 8:00.72.
Despite finishing third in the boys’ 3,000m final at the Youth Olympics, Kavesa won the boys cross country race to give him the gold medal as he beat Aregawi (11.13) and Chelimo (11.28).
Francis Leshoo won the Africa Youth 800m title in Algiers in 1:50.72 as his compatriot Nickson Pariken claimed the 1,500m title in 3:49.64 at the same event.
Jebitok won gold in 1,500m at the Youth Olympics in Buenos Aires, having also settled for silver at the Africa Youth Games.
Martha Nthanze stunned many when she won girls’ javelin throw (500g) at the Africa Youth Games with a throw of 54.12 metres. Nthanze, however, finished ninth with an aggregated score of 93.41m at the Youth Olympic Games.