Punta Umbria, Spain
The decision by Ethiopia, Uganda and Eritrea to send their teams to Punta Umbria a day earlier than expected has been taken by Kenyan officials as a declaration of war ahead of Sunday’s World Cross Country Championship.
Head coach David Leting had a hard time securing a training ground and was forced to sneak into the running circuit to get exclusive training. But head of delegation Joseph Kinyua cautioned his team that the plot their rivals were hatching was no longer a secret.
“This is war. They were never this serious before,” he said. “But after seeing what we did in Poland last year, I believe they had no choice but to equal us at our game.
“It is a challenge we are relishing and, on Sunday, I believe we will emerge victorious.”
Of course Kenya has had its bad day at work. In Edinburgh, Scotland, in 2008, only Leonard Komon won silver in the 12km senior men. There was acrimony in the Kenya camp.
They went back on the drawing board, immersed themselves in training and emerged a year later in Amman, Jordan, an enhanced squad to sweep all the team titles and one individual crown in the senior women’s 8km through Florence Kiplagat.
A year later in Poland, Kenya set a new record when they swept all the eight gold medals on offer.
The world watched with anguish and had to applaud the effort made by Kenyans to reclaim the oldest IAAF event. Now, they will not wait and see another domination by Kenya, especially Eritrea, Ethiopia and Uganda, all who have thrown down the gauntlet.
Coach Leting has however picked it up with relish and again shown the rich talent Kenya boasts.
“We have some exceptional athletes here. Uganda have Geoffrey Kusiro and Moses Kipsiro; Eritrea and Ethiopia, too, have their stars. But we have a galaxy of stars all eager to cement a name in the folklore and win Kenya a medal,” said Leting.
Eyeing Ngugi’s record
It is from this rich talent reservoir that Kenya has drawn the best 24 athletes to challenge for the medals. There was no room for all the last year’s champions – Mercy Cherono, Caleb Mwangangi, Emily Chebet and Joseph Ebuya – yet nobody is casting any doubts about the runners Kenya will be lining.
Berlin Marathon silver medallist Geoffrey Mutai is the most talked about here. On his cross country debut, he is eyeing the record of five-time winner John Ngugi, the only man to have struck gold in the explosive 12km race on his first attempt in 1986.