De­pleted Kenyans still ready to go the dis­tance

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - SPORTS -

NAIROBI — Kenya’s ath­letes were set to fly to Lon­don’s World Athletics Cham­pi­onships on Tues­day, their hopes for dom­i­na­tion bat­tered by the last-minute with­drawal of 800m Olympic cham­pion David Rud­isha with a quad in­jury.

Olympic 3,000m steeple­chase run­ner Cons­es­lus Kipruto was aim­ing to add a world ti­tle to the gold he won in Rio last year, and three­time world 1500m cham­pion As­bel Kiprop has vowed to re­tain his crown at the global show­case, which opens on Friday.

But Rud­isha’s torn mus­cle robbed him of his chance to go for a third world ti­tle and gave his team a steeper climb up the medals ta­ble, which it topped in Bei­jing two years ago.

“We can­not be over­con­fi­dent, even if we have such a good team,” head coach Julius Kirwa said on the eve of their de­par­ture.

He has good rea­sons to be cau­tious, given the po­lit­i­cal and le­gal dis­trac­tions that have swirled around the team in re­cent months.

Kenya’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in Lon­don was cleared when of­fi­cials fi­nally filed pa­per- work show­ing it had met In­ter­na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Athletics Fed­er­a­tions’ an­ti­dop­ing con­di­tions, af­ter miss­ing two pre­vi­ous dead­lines.

Kenya’s rep­u­ta­tion for mid­dle and long-dis­tance run­ning has been tar­nished by failed dop­ing tests among its elite ath­letes, in­clud­ing for­mer three­time Boston and Chicago marathon win­ner, Rita Jep­too, and Jemimah Sum­gong, the first Kenyan woman to win an Olympic marathon gold medal.

With the pa­per­work filed, at­ten­tion has switched back to the 48-mem­ber team.

“As Olympic cham­pion, this is what I have been wait­ing for. I wish to be crowned a world cham­pion,” 22-year-old Kipruto said.

“That will ful­fill my sen­ti­men­tal wish. Twice, I have been sil­ver medal­ist — 2013 in Moscow and 2015 in Bei­jing. It would be great to be a world cham­pion.”

He will be up against com­pa­triot and two-time Olympic cham­pion Ezekiel Kem­boi, who de­layed re­tire­ment af­ter miss­ing out in Brazil say­ing: “I must re­tire (from steeple­chase) as a cham­pion.”

The field will be even more com­pet­i­tive with Amer­i­can Olympic sil­ver medal­ist Evan Jager in the mix, along with Moroccan Soufi­ane El Bakkali, who won Di­a­mond League events in Stock­holm and Ra­bat.

Kiprop was also in a con­fi­dent mood. “I am win­ning my fourth ti­tle (in Lon­don). Trust me. I have been to six world cham­pi­onships. I have won three times,” he said.

Rud­isha would have been a big at­trac­tion at Lon­don Sta­dium, where he stunned the world by win­ning the 800m in a world-record 1min, 40.91sec at the 2012 Olympics.

“I have ac­cepted my fate with a very heavy heart and would like to wish the team well. They can still make it,” said the 28-year-old, who an­nounced his with­drawal on Mon­day.

Julius Yego, world javelin cham­pion, is also on the team, as is Lon­don Marathon win­ner Daniel Wan­jiru, Paris Marathon cham­pion Paul Lonyan­gata and Boston Marathon ti­tle holder Ge­of­frey Kirui.

Among the women in the 800m are for­mer world cham­pion Eu­nice Sum and Olympic bronze medal­ist Mar­garet Nyair­era.

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