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Kenyan sprinters battle to keep up with the Joneses in Yokohama

Friday May 10 2019

Diana Chebet (left) and Joan Cherono work on their baton exchange technique at a training session at Yokohama’s Nissan Stadium warm-up track on May 10, 2019 on the eve of the IAAF World Relays. PHOTO | ELIAS MAKORI |

Diana Chebet (left) and Joan Cherono work on their baton exchange technique at a training session at Yokohama’s Nissan Stadium warm-up track on May 10, 2019 on the eve of the IAAF World Relays. PHOTO | ELIAS MAKORI |  NATION MEDIA GROUP

ELIAS MAKORI
By ELIAS MAKORI
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Kenyan sprinters go into this weekend’s IAAF World Relays here knowing they will have to change tack and punch above their weight if they are to keep up with emerging, innovative trends in global track and field.

The fourth edition of the International Association of Athletics Federations’ newest World Athletics Series events runs today and tomorrow at the Nissan Stadium (formerly Yokohama International Stadium) with Kenya fielding its biggest squad yet at these championships whose first three editions were held at the Thomas Robinson Stadium in Nassau, Bahamas, in 2014, 2015 and 2017.

With the 5,000 metres men’s and women’s races having been struck off the 14-meet IAAF Diamond League’s television schedule, Kenya and Ethiopia, the world’s foremost distance running nations, have been battling to fight for “better” recognition of the long races.

But, meanwhile, with broadcasters demanding for “fast paced” events, Kenya will have to direct more attention to the sprints and fight from within.

Yesterday, Athletics Kenya Vice-President and head of the association’s technical committee, Paul Mutwii, conceded that they have been pushed into a corner and have to respond by throwing their weight behind sprints.

“This (sprints) is one area of competition where Kenya is not strong,” Mutwii explained at the Nissan Stadium’s warm-up track where coach Stephen Mwaniki took the Kenyan sprinters through baton exchange workouts at about 6pm, local time, on Friday.

“That is why we have decided to focus on our sprinters and to enter athletes in almost all of these relays events here.

“The only area we didn’t enter athletes is in the hurdles, or shuttle relay. We are trying to prepare our athletes so that they are competitive in these races.”

Mutwii said, as competition director, he had impressed on the AK executive to focus on developing sprinters.

“Kenya has athletes capable of taking on anyone in the sprints, but the problem has been the mentality of coaches, athletes and even the federation to focus on distance races, meaning that even when one is a good sprinter, the tendency has been to look for road races to get money … But there’s also money in the sprints, and that’s why (multiple world and Olympics sprints champion and record holder) Usain Bolt is a rich guy,” Mutwii argued.

Action starts at 6.38pm local time (12:38pm Kenyan time) with the shuttle hurdles relay, where Kenya won’t feature, followed by the women’s 4x400 metres relay (Neviah Michira, Gladys Musyoki, Veronica Mutua and Maureen Thomas) at 7.02pm (1.05pm, Kenyan time) where Kenya has been drawn in lane two of the opening heat that also features Poland, Australia, Uganda, Belgium, Switzerland and Great Britain.

The next Kenyan race will be the 2x2x400m (Collins Kipruto, Eglay Nalyanya, Ferguson Rotich and Emily Cherotich Tuei) which will be a straight final from 8.40pm (2.40pm) with Kenya up against Poland, USA, Australia, Belarus, Japan, Refugee Team and Papua New Guinea.

Kenya will also battle in the heats of the mixed 4x400m (Alphas Kishoyian, Aron Koech, Jared Momanyi, Hellen Syombua, Maureen Thomas) at 9.22pm (3.22pm).

On Friday, IAAF President Seb Coe praised the uptake of the relays, noting that the world’s track and field governing body hasn’t slammed the door to further innovation in the sport.

“The mainstay of our sport has to be the recognition that we have to always be thinking what’s going to attract new, young fans, what’s going to be keeping our broadcasters and partners happy, and, yes, innovation sits at the heart of everything we are doing,” Coe responded to a question from Nation Sport at the official pre-competition press conference at the Nissan Stadium.

The IAAF World Relays will be broadcast to over 120 nations with fans also accessing the action through the IAAF’s YouTube channel.

Saturday's schedule

1:05pm - women’s 4x400metres relay heats

2:40pm - mixed relay 2x2x400metres

3:22pm - mixed relay 4x400metres heats

Sunday:

12:10pm - women’s 4x200metres

12:31pm - men’s 4x200metres

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