Southern Sudan will make its distance running debut as an independent nation at this weekend’s Salzburg Amref Marathon in Austria.
Francis Ohisha, 25, is the man who will be flying high his new country’s flag at the marathon.
This year’s Amref Salzburg Marathon’s theme “Maternal Health” targets to use sports to create awareness on health of mothers and children due to the high mortality rate in Africa.
Ohisha will be up against upcoming and seasoned athletes from Kenya, Ethiopia and other nations at the annual race sponsored by the Africa Medical and Research Foundation (Amref).
The Kenyan squad has Cyprian Kiogora - the winner of 2010 Hong Kong Marathon - Risper Kimaiyo, who won the Berlin Marathon in 2009 alongside rising stars Sylvia Kibyego, and Victor Cheloki.
Ethiopia will be represented by Jedina Mirachu. Ohisha, a father of two, and a first timer in athletics, said he was in good form and predicted a win for Southern Sudan in the marathon which has attracted over 4,700 participants.
“It is a great challenge but I know I have what it takes to win the race,” he said at Wednesday’s send-off breakfast organised by Amref in Nairobi.
Ohisha says he began training in 2005 and hopes to join the league of established athletes.
At Wednesday’s send-off breakfast, Sports Commissioner Gordon Oluoch lauded Amref for sponsoring the marathon and challenged Kenyan athletes to make the country proud by clinching the top titles.
Athletics Kenya Secretary General David Okeyo couldn’t agree more: “Kenya has a track record in athletics. We have won over 80 per cent of all international marathons.”
Okeyo said Athletics Kenya was mooting the idea of re-introducing the Amref Half-Marathon into its calendar for next year.
In his speech, Oluoch fired a broadside at Cricket Kenya for challenging the ministry’s concern over the falling standards of the sport and also expressed concern over the bloated Kenyan club football fixtures.
Austrian Ambassador to Kenya, Christian Hasenbichler and Mette Kjaer of Amref Corporate, were the chief guests at the send-off.