Passport woes: Sprinters, and field athletes miss out as AK selects team

Mercy Chepkemoi celebrates winning 3000m women's finals during Athletics Kenya World Under-20 Trials at Nyayo National Stadium.

Photo credit: Chris Omollo| Nation

Despite a strong team of 19 athletes that includes two female athletes doubling up for the first time, Team Kenya for the World Athletics Under-20 Championships is missing sprinters and field eventers.

The team for the World Athletics U-20 Championships scheduled for 27-31 August in Lima, Peru was selected during the two-day trials that ended on Friday, June 28 at the Nyayo National Stadium.

Athletics Kenya (AK) was forced to push the trials forward to July 18-19 at the same venue following directives from World Athletics to its member associations.

AK Director of Youth and Development Barnaba Korir revealed that one of the directives, which required all countries to fill in entry forms with their passports attached by June 30, excluded their top juniors who didn't have passports.

"There was nothing we could have done as it would have been useless to have them in the trials without their passports. Most of the middle and distance runners have them," said Korir.

What's more, most of the Under-20 camps across the country don't have specialised sprint and field event coaches and this laid the groundwork for most sprinters to move on to middle-distance events where there are opportunities.

"Most of these camps have middle and distance coaches who graduate these sprinters into the ranks as there are no opportunities for them to progress," noted Youth and Development Committee member Eliud Wambua.

The team is littered with world and African medallists at both senior and junior levels.
They include 2023 World Under-20 cross-country champion Ismael Kipkurui, who will compete in the men's 5,000m, Sarah Moraa, fresh from winning the African 800m title, and Africa 3,000m steeplechase silver medallist Edmond Serem.

Also in the mix are Commonwealth Youth 800m champion Kelvin Kimutai and Africa Under-20 Race Walk bronze medallist Stephen Ndangiri, who will be looking to emulate his training partner Heristone Wanyonyi, who won the World Under-20 crown in Nairobi in 2021.

The highlight, however, was the performance of Tiloa Mixed Secondary School Form Three pupils Mercy Chepkemoi and Sheila Jebet, who will be doubling up. 

Chepkemoi and Jebet want to emulate their idol Faith Kipyegon, the 5,000m and 1,500m world champion.

Chepkemoi strutted to victories in the 3,000m and 5,000m finals in 9:10.95 and 15:55.23 respectively, while Jebet claimed the 1,500m honours in 4:19.38 before finishing second to Chepkemoi in the 5,000m in 15:55.26.

Chepkemoi, who finished sixth in the 5,000m at the just-concluded African Athletics Championships in Cameroon and 12th at the World Athletics Cross Country Championships in

Serbia in March, said she was ready to claim the gold medals in Lima.

"My endurance is what helped her perform well and come out victorious, although I need to increase my speed to be safe," Chepkemoi said. "If Kipyegon could do it, why not me?"

Jebet, who trains in Iten, Elgeyo Marakwet will be hoping for better results after finishing fourth at the World Cross Country Championships in Serbia.

"We have a big task ahead of us and competing in both 1,500m and 5,000m means you have to be fast and have endurance at the same time. I will be working on my finishing kick so that by the time we get to Lima, I will be in good shape to go for the prize on offer," said Jebet, who will team up with Phanuel Koech in the 1,500m.

Despite the heartbreak of missing the Paris Olympic qualifying time of 1:59.30, Moraa, who won in 2:00.01, is hopeful of reclaiming the 800m title last won by Kenya through Margaret Nyairera in 2014.

Kimutai has vowed to uphold the country's 800m honour and won his event in 1:46.77.

Emmanuel Wanyonyi, who won in Colombia in 2022, has moved up to the senior level.

"My target in Lima is gold, nothing less... that honour will stay at home," said the Form Four pupil from Kosirai Secondary School.