What you need to know:
- Kibiwot and Kigen made it through to the steeplechase final from energy-sapping preliminaries while Moraa advanced to the semi-finals in the 800m
- Kigen (season’s best eight minutes, 10.80 seconds) was first into the final after finishing third in the opening heat behind Ethiopia’s Lamecha Girma (9:09.83) Japan’s Ryuji Miura (9:09.92)
- Bett failed to make it from Heat Three, finishing fifth in 8:19.62 which wasn’t good enough for an outside chance into Monday’s final
Since Amos Biwott’s exploits at Mexico ‘68, Kenya has never failed to win gold in the Olympic Games men’s steeplechase final.
And since Pamela Jelimo became the first Kenyan woman to win an Olympic gold at the 2008 Beijing Games, Kenya has never failed to land an athlete onto the 800 metres women’s podium.
The men’s steeplechase roll of honour reads like this: Amos Biwott (1968, Mexico), Kipchoge Keino (1972, Munich), 1976 (Montreal, Kenya boycotted), 1980 (Moscow, Kenya boycotted), Julius Korir (1984, Los Angeles), Julius Kariuki (1988, Seoul), Mathew Birir (1992, Barcelona), Joseph Keter (1996, Atlanta), Reuben Kosgei (2000, Sydney), Ezekiel Kemboi (2004, Athens), Brimin Kipruto (2008, Beijing), Ezekiel Kemboi (2012, London) and Conseslus Kipruto (2016, Rio de Janeiro).
Jelimo followed her ground-breaking 800m gold in Beijing (Janeth Jepkosgei bagged silver) with bronze behind South Africa’s Caster Semenya and Russia’s Ekaterina Poistogova at the London Games.
Four years later, in Rio 2016, Margaret Nyairera secured bronze behind Semenya and Burundi’s Francine Niyonsaba.
Such is the rich tradition Kenya enjoys in these two events that the weight on the shoulders of Abraham Kibiwot, Benjamin Kigen and Mary Moraa is quite heavy.
Kibiwot and Kigen made it through to the steeplechase final from energy-sapping preliminaries while Moraa advanced to the semi-finals in the 800m, a race she recently joined from her hitherto 400m, specialty.
Kigen (season’s best eight minutes, 10.80 seconds) was first into the final after finishing third in the opening heat behind Ethiopia’s Lamecha Girma (9:09.83) Japan’s Ryuji Miura (9:09.92).
He was joined from Heat Two by Kibiwot who won in 8:12.25 to grab the automatic qualifying slot alongside Ethiopia’s Getnet Wale (8:12.55) and Ahmed Abdelwahed of Italy (8:12.71).
Bett failed to make it from Heat Three, finishing fifth in 8:19.62 which wasn’t good enough for an outside chance into Monday’s final.
It wasn’t easy, though, for Kigen who did media rounds with his foot bleeding as a result of being spiked in the melee.
But that, perhaps, was the trigger he needed to get fired-up for the final.
“It was a good race although it was pretty hot, but I just made sure I got into the final,” he said.
“My aim was first to qualify and then strategise on how to attack the medals.”
There was a lot of pushing and shoving, a situation that needed quite some maturity to break even.
“There was a lot of pushing and as you can see, I’m even bleeding, but that doesn’t matter. Nothing can stop me… this is like war. You cannot give up. You’d rather collapse in the fight than give up,” the 28-year-old Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) soldier said with military resolve.
Kibiwot, 25, also a KDF soldier, was no less resolute.
“We first wanted to make it to the final and then plan how to attack,” the winner at last year’s Kip Keino Classic Continental Tour meeting in Nairobi said.
“As you know, the steeplechase belongs to Kenya and we shall never let Kenya down. We are ready and we have trained well, while the body is responding well.”
Bett, just 20, won gold at the 2017 World Under-18 Championships’ 2,000m steeplechase gold in Nairobi and followed up with silver at the U-20s the following year in Tampere, Finland.
He conceded that stage freight and some inexperience cost him as he was boxed in and left with very little options.
“There was a lot of pushing and shoving which messed me up…but again, there was a lot of pressure as this is a Kenyan race.
“I also had pressure because this was my first Olympic race.”
Meanwhile, Moraa is the lone ranger in the 800m after overall Team Kenya captain Eunice Sum and Emily Tuwei failed to qualify.
Despite being a rookie in the two-lap race, the Nairobi 2017 World Under-18 Championships’ (400 metres) sensation said she’s confident of ruffling a few feathers.
“According to the training I’ve done from when I graduated to 800 metres, I’ve had some challenges, sometimes thinking whether I should go back to 400 metres or move to 800, but I finally decided to stick to 800 metres,” she said.
While Sum, also Team Kenya’s overall captain at these Tokyo Games, declined media interviews, Tuwei - pointing at her left calf heavily strapped in kinesio tape - said she had sustained a calf muscle earlier, and although she tried to push, she didn't wish to aggravate the injury.