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What you need to know:
- Plenty of action expected as the continent’s elite athletes converge
There’s a belief that invitational track meetings are more entertaining than the actual championship; that the trailer is better than the actual feature film.
It’s a mindset born out of the assertion athletes put in a lot of training in preparation and are as desperate to win as they are not to lose in a final. Maybe this explains why two of the most promising African 800m athletes - David Rudisha of Kenya and Abubakar Kaki of Sudan - have failed to win at the World Championship or the Olympics Games in their speciality.
The two will lead hundreds of elite African athletes to this year’s African Athletics Championships, which begin next Wednesday in Nairobi and ends on Sunday. This will mark the 17th edition of the championships, and the first time it is held in Kenya.
Kenya had a haul of 16 medals - five gold, five silver and six bronze - at the last event in Addis Ababa. Kenya finished fourth out of 46 countries that took part. The biannual track and field championship will be used to select Africa’s team to this year’s World Cup in Athletics to be held in Split City, Croatia.
Kenya has competed in all the championships, apart from the 1988 event in Annaba, Algeria. The first edition was held in 1979 in Dakar, Senegal attracting 24 countries who brought along 251 athletes.
Four countries — Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, and Ethiopia — have dominated the championship capturing a combined 30 of the 44 gold medals on offer.
While, there will be no monetary prizes in this competition, it will provide a stage for budding talent.
Several top Kenyan athletes including Janeth Jepkosgei, Pamela Jelimo, Haron Keitany and Alfred Kirwa Yego, Richard Mateelong launched their careers at this competition.
Jepkosgei was the winner in Bambous, Mauritius in 2006 in 800m. Jelimo came from the obscure Koyo village in Kapsabet to stun the continent in Addis Ababa two years ago. Mateelong was a silver medallist in Brazzaville in 2004 in 3,000m steeplechase.
The five Kenyan gold medallists five years ago were Jelimo (800m), Haron Keitany (1,500m), David Rudisha (800m), Richard Mateelong (3,000m sc), and Grace Wanjiru (walk). Only three of them are fit this time.
Keitany, who went on to win bronze at the World Indoor Championship in Doha in March, is nursing a hamstring injury while Jelimo is also nursing an injury.
This then leaves Rudisha, the current Africa record holder at 1:41.51, Mateelong, the world silver medallist, and Wanjiru to defend their titles.
All three are also eyeing a place in the Kenyan team to the October Commonwealth Games to be held in New Delhi, India. President Kibaki has weighed in, urging the Kenya team to take the overall title.
“The championship will bring some of the finest athletes from the continent. These athletes are some of the best in the world in respective disciplines, making the event therefore, be at world class level,” said Kibaki while handing over the national flag to team captain Janeth Jepkosgei.
The most anticipated clash, the men’s 800 metres, will feature Rudisha against seasoned South African Mbulaeni Mulaudzi, Alfred Kirwa Yego, Ahmed Ismail of Sudan and Morocco’s Amine Laalou.
Sudan’s Abubaker Kaki is doubtful. “That is a common line among we athletes, especially if one is planning on a surprise attendance,” says Rudisha of Kake’s plans.
“Until the technical meeting, everything is possible and I am training as if this race will be my last,” said Rudisha. Rudisha, 21, will be among the three Kenyans, others being Kivuva and Yego.
The withdrawal of South Africa’s Caster Semenya in the women’s 800m race does not lessen the competition either. World silver medallist Janeth Jepkosgei is the runner to beat.
She will face compatriots Winny Chebet, the Beijing 2006 World Junior Champion, and Eunice Sum. From other countries are Hasna Benhassi and Halima Hachlaf of Morocco and Leonor Piuza (Mozambique).
“I don’t train for an event because of someone. I train to win irrespective of who is there. Semenya’s withdrawal does little to alter the tempo of the competition,” says Jepkosgei.
In 5,000m race, Ethiopia and Kenya will tangle again with Edwin Soi, the bronze medallist in Osaka in 2007, aiming for revenge against Tariku Bekele of Ethiopia, whose brother, Kenenisa, has continually beaten him over the distance.
In the sprints, Nigerians Obinna Metu, Ogbo Ogen Egweru and Benjamin Adukwu will battle for supremacy as they seek to crush compatriot Olusoji Fasuba’s African 100m record of 9.98 seconds. Nigeria has entered a squad of 44 athletes and 10 officials.
Kenya will line up Stephen Baraza, Kipkemoi Soi and Simon Kimaru. The men’s 10,000m is billed as the clash of the titans. Kenya will be represented by Wilson Kiprop, Geoffrey Mutai and Mathew Kisorio. Uganda will miss Boniface Kiprop, but will be represented by Geoffrey Kusuro, Abraham Kiplimo and Moses Kipsiro.
Ethiopia have Olympic silver medallist Sileshi Sihine and Tariku Bekele. This is a must see race on the opening day.
The women’s 1,500m is an open race, according to Olympic champion Nancy Jebet Lagat, who will be making her second appearance at the continental championship after finishing fourth in Brazzaville in 2004. She said Ethiopia’s Gelete Burka, the World Indoor bronze medallist, Mariem Alaoui Selsouli and upstart Ibtissam Lakhouad both of Morocco are her biggest threats.
She lost her only race this season to Burka in a IAAF Golden League meeting in Lausanne two weeks ago but still clocked a personal best. Burka won in 3:59.28, a world leading time with Lakhouad of Morocco coming second in 3:59.35, a national record and Lagat coming in third with a personal best of 4:00.13. They are all expected in Nairobi.
Grace Kidake, Kenya’s champion over the 400m race, Catherine Nandi and Emily Cherotich will be up against Botswana’s Amantle Montilo, the reigning Africa champion.