Stakes are high at historic Uhuru Gardens as Athletics Kenya hosts over 500 athletes for the National Cross Country Championships/National trials Saturday. Donning Kenya’s famous red vest in an international championship is often a pedestal every athlete craves to step on to join the big leagues. Thus, tough duels are anticipated as athletes vie for tickets to represent Kenya in next month’s Africa Cross Country Championships in Algeria.
Twelve AK branches as well as four affiliates (Police, Kenya Defense Forces, Kenya Prisons and Universities) will field athletes in the five race categories on the cards. Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and National Youth Service (NYS) will also parade their athletes at Uhuru Gardens.
The federation has locked out individual participants from the Uhuru Gardens meet but stardust names from the affiliates and branches will light up the championships. Africa senior men Cross Country gold medallist James Rungaru leads a strong team from central branch while his female counterpart Alice Aprot leads Kenya DefenCe Forces (KDF) team.
Two-lap sensation Margaret Nyairera of Kenya Prisons will feature in mixed relays as 1,500m world champions Elijah Manangoi boost the National Police Service relay team as well. Rungaru clocked 26:34 to win the continental crown two years ago and is in the frame for another shot for the title. He, however, faces a stiff test after AK abolished the issue of wild cards for the continental jamboree.
“I’m prepared well for the games because I know my title defence will start at the Kenyan trials. Competition is usually very stiff locally and I’m aware of pretenders to my Africa title so I’ll give all I have to be in the te,” said Rungaru the African champion.
Richard Kimunyan (Central Rift), who won men’s Under-20 8km race title at the nationals last year before settling for bronze in Kampala, hopes to graduate to senior ranks in style in the men’s race that also features Africa 10,000m silver medalist Wilfred Kimitei (Prisons) and Mangata Ndiwa (Prisons).
World 5,000m champion Hellen Obiri (Kenya Defence Forces) is the person to beat in women’s 10km fray that has Africa Cross Country champion Alice Aprot (Prisons), who also won silver at the World Cross Country Championships in Kampala.
Others to watch out for are World Cross Country Under-20 bronze medallist Cellphine Chespol (Prisons), the 2016 Paris Marathon champion Visiline Jepkesho(Prisons) and Stancy Ndiwa(PolIce).
Africa Cross County women’s Under-20 champion Miriam Cherop, World Under-18 2,000m steeplechase champion Caren Chebet, World Under-18 800m bronze medallist Lydia Jeruto, World Under-18 1,500m bronze medallist Ednah Jebitok will highlight women’s Under-20 6km race.
World Under-18 2,000m steeplechase champion Leonard Bett, World Under-18 3,000m silver medallist Edward Zakayo and the 2015 World Under-18 3,000m bronze medallist will face off in men’s Under-20 8km battle.