Depleted Kenyans still ready to go the distance
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.