Keith McGhie in Birmingham @peoplesport11 Despite late success for Bethwell Birgen in the 3,000m, Kenya is reflecting on its worst performance at a major athletics championships in many years. The nation that topped the merit table, heading both Jamaica and the USA, as recently as 2015 in the outdoor championships went into the Sunday’s final day of competition at the Indoor World Championship in Birmingham without a single medal.
And although Birgen claimed a fine third place, denying Ethiopia a clean sweep of the medals in the race, a combination of a clerical hitch, misjudgment and under achievement saw the other six members of the seven-strong squad leave England empty handed.
The four-day global competition began badly with red hot favourite for gold in the men’s 800 metres Emmanual Korir stranded in New York after a technical failure of the computer system at the British Embassy left him without the necessary documents to travel across the Atlantic.
Korir had record the fastest time of the winter over the distance and fourth quickest of all time indoors (1:44.21) only four weeks beforehand and was devastated by his inability to compete in an event which only had 10 other entries.
World 5,000m champion Hellen Obiri faded over the closing laps to finish only fourth in the opening night women’s 3,000m, the 2012 indoor gold medallist unable to stay with winner Genzebe Dibaba, Netherlands’ Sifan Hassan and home favourite Laura Muir, failing to make the podium for the first time at a global championships for six years.
The same trio easily outpaced a brave run from Winny Chebet in the 1,500m, where previously in-form Beatrice Chepkoech, the second fastest in the world this year with 4:02.21 in Glasgow just six days beforehand, tailed off to finish only seventh.
“The weather hasn’t helped,” pointed out Chebet, who had been unable to train properly due to heavy snow and freezing conditions which had gripped Britain all week. Margaret Nyairera could only blame herself as, after qualifying comfortably for the women’s 800m final. She was subsequently disqualified for over-balancing on the 200 metre track’s banked bend and running out of her lane before the stagger ended.
That left 29-year-old Birgen to restore some pride with a battling bronze medal in a 3,000m race effectively reduced to less than 2,000m by a pedestrian pace over the first five laps. The Kenyan clung on behind Ethiopian duo Yomif Kejelcha and 18-year-old sensation Selemon Berega to get onto the podium.
“I am very happy as that is my first medal ever at a major championships. It was so slow for the first half of the race that I knew I had a chance because I have been specialising in 1,500m,” said Birgen.
He added: “This is athletics, anything can happen and we were all saying last night that we must just forget what has happened here and concentrate on the Commonwealth Games (from April 4-15).”