IN MONTE CARLO, MONACO
The focus of attention in athletics shifts to Monaco Friday night for the 2017 IAAF World Athlete of the Year Awards ceremony to be held in the heart of the principality.
The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) has rolled out the red carpet for over 70 of the world’s best athletes with Kenya well represented here.
London Marathon champion Mary Keitany, world half marathon record holder Joyciline Jepkosgei, world 1,500 metres champion Elijah Manang’oi and his training mate Timothy Cheruiyot along with world 5,000 metres champion Hellen Obiri are among the stellar cast invited for Friday night’s black tie awards ceremony that will be held at the seaside Grimaldi Forum in the heart of the principality from 7.45pm local time (9.45pm Kenyan time).
Prince Albert II of Monaco, who is also the honorary president of the International Athletics Foundation, will be the chief guest, accompanied by IAAF President Seb Coe as per annual tradition.
The athletes have been keeping themselves busy here ahead of Friday’s awards ceremony, some going out sailing in expensive yachts and other sampling the touristic attractions in the principality.
Shortlisted in the men’s category are Qatari world high jump champion Mutaz Essa Barshim, who was undefeated in 11 competitions this year, multiple world and Olympic distance running champion Mo Farah of Great Britain and South Africa’s world 400 metres record holder and champion Wayde van Niekerk.
The women’s shortlist has Ethiopia’s world 10,000m champion Almaz Ayana who also won silver in the 5,000m at the IAAF World Championships in London in August, Greek pole vault world champion Ekaterini Stefanidi and Belgium’s heptathlon world champion Nafissatou Thiam.
Among the guests invited to Friday’s awards are National Olympic Committee of Kenya President Paul Tergat, himself an Olympic 10,000m silver medallist and former world marathon record holder, another ex-world record holder over the 42-kilometre distance Tecla Lorupe, Athletics Kenya President Jackson Tuwei and Mwangi Muthee, the chief executive officer at this year’s IAAF World Under-18 Championships in Nairobi.
Kenya’s successful middle distance coach Bernard Ouma, who handles Manang’oi and Cheruiyot at the Rongai Athletics Club, is also on the guest list at the IAAF moves to appreciate the role of coaches in the sport.
"I'm delighted to be here. The last time I was in Monaco was in 2009 and it's a great honour to be here again after over seven years," said Keitany who finished second in the New York Marathon earlier this month.
For Jepkosgei, 2017 has been a great year that saw her break the world half marathon record twice.
"It's my first time in Monaco and to mingle with other athletes. It's the first time I'm competing in major road races this year and I'm happy how it has gone," said Jepkosgei.
Obiri said her consistency, that has seen her medal indoor and outdoor since 2012, goes down to early planning and focus.
"To be a champion is not easy. It's all about focus and what you do. Running from the 1,500 metres to the 5,000 metres needs good focus," said Obiri who was among 10 athletes shortlisted for the Athlete of the Year Award before the list was trimmed down to three.
Manang'oi noted that he made the right decision to shift from the 400 metres to the 1,500m.
"This year (2017) was my best and I don't regret shifting from the 400m to the 1,500m. The progress has been good since I went to the Commonwealth Games, then got silver in the (2015) Beijing world championships but the Rio Olympics were not good at all because of injury but then I recovered well and trained for seven months before winning gold in London this year," Manang'oi said.
"It was also a great year for my family as my brother George also won gold in the 1,500m at the World Under-18s in Nairobi."
On the sidelines of the awards, the IAAF Council will hold its 212th meeting here, culminating in a press briefing on Sunday evening.
IAAF departments, commissions, working groups and task forces will also hold their meetings with a report expected on the status of Russia’s suspension from athletics for violating anti-doping rules.
An athletics photo exhibition is also being held at the Le Meridien Hotel where the athletes have been booked in.