The junior men’s 8km race has for a long time been dubbed “the race of the unpredictable”.
The competitors are young, on the cusp of joining the senior ranks, and have nothing to lose. They will be keen to do well and increase their bargaining power as they are about to pen new contracts as seniors.
The 8km junior men’s race will be the second of the day come Saturday during the National Cross Country trials at Uhuru Gardens.
It will be a race that will have six World Junior and Youth champions, their understudies, as well as hitherto unknown entities keen to sneak into to the global limelight.
Yet, just like a double-edged sword, Nicholas Togom and Simon Cheprot, as opposed to the other competitors, will be battling on two fronts.
The two will be in the hunt for tickets to the World Cross Country Championships in Punta Umbria, Spain, next month and also for a chance to run away with the Sh250,000 share of the jackpot set aside for the junior men’s 8km race.
In his final year as a junior, Cheprot will not rest on his laurels as he leads the men’s 8km charges.
Cheprot and Togom each boast one podium finish, a runner-up finish and a third-place position in the run-up to the nationals and a win in the final will see them kill two birds with one stone.
Surprise winners possible
The known junior runners have produced little this season and surprise victors could spring up.
Africa 3,000m junior silver medallist Stephen Kiprotich, world Youth 3,000m steeplechase silver medallist David Bett and world Youth 3,000m champion Isaiah Kiplangat are also chasing the limited slots.
Bett clinched the World Junior 5,000m title in Moncton, Canada, last year as an ankle sprain sustained during the World Junior trials at Nyayo National Stadium kept Kiplangat out of the trip to North America.
Kiplangat has, however, shaken off the injury and immersed himself in training to emerge with a greatly enhanced reputation.
He destroyed the opposition over the 5,000m indoor distance in Dusseldorf, Germany, on Friday and the 3,000m race in Gent on Sunday in world leading times.
With World Cross 8km champion Caleb Mwangangi back from an ankle injury sustained in Japan where he has been based since winning in Bydgoszcz, Poland, last year, a big battle looms.
Throw in the steel of Dennis Masai, the World Junior 10,000m champion and a younger brother of World 10,000m champion Linet Masai, national schools champion Albert Rop from Riruta Satelite Secondary, Kiplangat Kirui, Edward Waweru, Peter Mwololo and World Cross bronze medallist Japheth Korir and you have no room for prediction.
Korir, fourth in Amman in 2009, will now have the final stage to go for a World Cross gold. Also keen to carve a niche in the race will be Jonathan Muia Ndiku, the World Junior 3,000m steeplechase champion.
With two teams to be selected, the junior men’s race is too close to call. No room for mistakes.