Kenya’s team to the 12th IAAF World Championships in Athletics literally hit the ground running when they shook off their jet lag with a light evening workout just hours after landing in the German capital on Tuesday morning.
Newly-appointed head coach Peter Mathu’s business-like approach is aimed at raising the team’s morale to what he would like to see as an all-time high ahead of the competition that starts off with the men’s shot putt qualifying round at 10.05am local time (11.05am Kenyan time) on Saturday.
The Kenyan team landed in Berlin – without its marathoners – at about 9am local time after connecting from Nairobi through Zurich in flawless Swiss Air flights that left the squad in high spirits.
“Great connections and no problems at all. We could not have hoped to have a better journey, and now the business begins,” said Mathu, who was in previous head coach Julius Kirwa’s coaching staff at the Beijing Olympics last year.
The team was received by the advance party of Athletics Kenya’s bigwigs Isaiah Kiplagat (chairman), David Okeyo (secretary) and Joseph Kinyua (treasurer).
Kiplagat is a council member of the International Association of Athletics federations (IAAF) and is here to attend the world athletics governing body’s council meeting that will precede the Worlds.
Women will set the ball rolling for the Kenyans on the track. The first event of interest being the 3,000 metres qualifying rounds from 11.50am Kenyan time, Gladys Kemboi, Milka Chemos and wild card beneficiary, Ruth Bosibori, the World Junior record holder, are in the reckoning.
They will test the waters (and barriers) against the famed Russians, led by the second fastest woman in the race’s history, Gulnara Galkina, whose personal best of nine minutes, 06.57 seconds will send some shivers down the spine of the faint-hearted.
Galkina will be joined by Yekatarina Volkova and fast rising Yuliya Zarudneva. For all her troubles, the Olympic champion Volkova is yet to win a world title and what better motivation could one have?
Joyce Zakari comes up next on the Berlin tartan for the Day One programme in the 400m heats at 1.50pm Kenyan time, seeking to confirm that all her qualifying buzz was worth the hype.
David Kimutai, for a long time the lone ranger in the men’s walk, will be Kenya’s first finalist in action when the 20-kilometre stroll on the streets of Berlin seeks to yield the championships’ first medals from 2pm Kenyan time.
Kenya’s best bet for a Day One medal on Saturday will be in the women’s 10,000m final at 8.25pm Kenyan time. Here, the Ethiopians have gleefully cast their net wider, with double Olympic champion Tirunesh Dibaba and her sworn rival World 5,000m champion Meseret Defar, both going for a 10,000m and 5,000m double.
They will be joined by Meselech Melkamu while Kenya’s bid to prevent a clean Ethiopian sweep will come from considered ‘dark horses’ Linet Masai and World Cross Country champion Florence Kiplagat.
Important to do well
“It’s important for us to do well in the opening events of the championships as these will set the tone for the rest of the competition,” Mathu said on Tuesday.
“My biggest task now is to psyche up Kimutai and the women running in the 10,000m final.” Since Tegla Lorupe’s bronze in Seville a decade ago, Kenyans are yet to taste the atmosphere on the podium in this race thoroughly dominated by Ethiopians.
My patriotic feelings aside and at the risk of sounding pessimistic, this race is Ethiopia’s for the losing and a 1-2-3 Ethiopian affair cannot be ruled out.
Conditions here are absolutely brilliant, with overcast skies and a high of 23 degrees Celcius providing a great stage for good times to be clocked.
“Many people thought it would be very hot because it’s summer time but the conditions here are brilliant, not too far from Nairobi, and this suits us just fine,” Mathu said.