From left: Leonard Bett, Collins Omae, Mercy Cherono, Kristal Awuah and Tazana Kamanga- Dyrbak at the pre-meet press conference in Nairobi National Park (© LOC)
A few zebras, giraffes and antelopes trotted by nonchalantly as elite athletes from Denmark, Great Britain and Kenya fielded media questions at the picturesque Nairobi National Park on the eve of the Kip Keino Classic, the final stop of the 2020 World Athletics Continental Tour Gold meeting series.
Bett aiming to take advantage of spotlight
World U20 silver medallist Leonard Bett is used to this sort of environment and focused on his drive to maximise on the absence of Olympic and world Champion Conseslus Kipruto, when he leads the men’s steeplechase field in Saturday’s action at the Nyayo National Stadium.
Bett said despite the absence of Kipruto and Moroccan world leader Soufiane El Bakkali the race will be competitive.
He will be competing on home soil for the first time since 2017, when he won the 2000m steeplechase gold at the World U18 Championships in Nairobi.
“I fell short of improving my personal best (8:08.61) when I finished second in 8:08.78 in Monaco on August 14 this year but I am really motivated to down those micro seconds,” Bett, who finished second in Monaco, said.
“My focus is to win even though I would have loved Olympic and world champion Conseslus Kipruto and Soufiane El Bakkali in the race but they are unfortunately out.”
Sprinters to shine
On the eve of her first competition in Africa during her first visit to Kenya, Kristal Awuah, the 2018 100m World U20 silver medalist is confident of putting up a fine performance with her eyes pegged on setting a Personal best time.
“I have been racing back to back for the last two months and it is nice to end the season here. I was in Doha (Diamond League) last week where I ran a season’s best time and I am hoping to set a new personal best time here,” Awuah said.
For her, competing in Nairobi’s high altitude is no problem at all and she believes she is well equipped to trounce a competitive field.
“Challenge? No. I have prepared well so I am ready. The challenge is only when you have not prepared well. As long as I put my best foot forward and I give my all, I will get what I want,” the 21-year-old Briton added.
Awuah has a personal best of 23.20 in the 200m set last month at the Sportcomplex De Leidse Hout, Leiden in the Netherlands.
In the corresponding men’s 200m race, Danish representative Tazana Kamanga-Dyrbak is the man to beat and said he is looking forward to recording fast times.
“This is a fast track and I am looking forward to posting some good times. I am well prepared despite not having the facilities leading to the season. We haven’t peaked well. I had a couple of races in Europe this year where I ran personal best 10.39 (100m) and 20.91 (200m) hence I am looking to better my time in 200m in Kenya,” he noted.
He added, “I have been in Kenya for two weeks just to acclimatise to the altitude and get a feel of the stadium. Sprints are on a rise in Denmark and there is a lot more to come since we have more participants in the Diamond League and Continental Tour. It looks promising for the country.”
Kenya’s Mike Mokamba will be hoping to upset the big wigs that also include South African Sinesipho Dambile, Arthur Cisse of Cote d’Ivoire and Nigeria’s Jerry Jakpa.
Cherono eager to return
On the eve of her first track race in over a year, 2014 Commonwealth Games champion Mercy Cherono is upbeat he will raise to the occasion and give her Kenyan fans something to celebrate about.
Cherono, who will be contesting the 1500m, said she will be using the meeting as part of her preparations for the Tokyo Olympic Games.
“It’s exciting to see a world class senior event on Kenyan soil for the first time,” Cherono said. “I’m happy to see action back after challenging moments since the advent of Covid-19. It was not easy for us in training, but we are happy to close the season with a championship.
“I want to use the 1500m race for speed since my focus is 5000m for next year’s Tokyo Olympic Games.”
Cherono, who started her career as a 1500m runner will be up against 2018 Continental Cup champion Winnie Chebet who is Timothy Cheruiyot’s training partner.
Athletics Kenya President Lt. Gen (Rtd) Jackson Tuwei expressed his joy seeing Kenya host the inaugural World Continental Tour Gold series, vowing that the athletics power-house nation will stage a world class competition.
“Our event in Nairobi will be different compared to other Continental Tour Meet because we not only have core events but also, we made it a national championship to give other athletes who have not had a chance to compete due to the Covid-19 pandemic,” Tuwei stated.
Tuwei confirmed that the meet has attracted 97 foreign athletes, 65 men and 32 women, from 24 countries.
Kenya’s Chief Administrative secretary for Sports, Hassan Noor Hassan reiterated the Kenyan government’s support for athletics.
The government has footed the entire budget for the Kip Keino Classic and is already making preparations for the 2021 World U20 Championships that will also hold in Nairobi.
Alex Isaboke and Elias Makori (organisers) for World Athletics