James Magayi @magayijim
Kenyan athletes taking part in the 23rd edition of IAAF World Half Marathon in Valencia, Spain next Sunday face a serious threat from nine defectors draped in opposition flags.
Defending champion Geoffrey Kamworor and his four male compatriots will line up against seven highly-ranked long distance runners who turned their backs on Kenya for other nationalities.
More than 300 international athletes are expected to be in action in the Spanish city as 176 men and 139 women have been confirmed as entered by 87 IAAF Member Federations.
Jorum Okombo, Leonard Barsoton, Alex Korio and Barselius Kipyego complete Kenya’s men’s team. The female contingent comprise 23-year-old Fancy Chemutai, Pauline Kaveke, Ruth Chepngetich, Mary Ngugi and Joyciline Jepkosgei. Headlining the ‘local’ threat to Kenya’s dominance in the 21km event is World Marathon champion Rose Chelimo who stole gold under Kenya’s noses in London last year.
The 28-year-old, who started running for Bahrain in 2014, holds an impressive 68:08 in the half marathon and bring the confidence of winning gold last August to Valencia. She will be backed up in the Bahraini team by another defector Rose Chelimo. Veteran athlete Bernard Lagat who brought honours to the country before switching allegiance to USA is another name to keep in mind during the event.
Lagat, 44, is a decorated Olympic and world medallist at the twilight of his career but age has never been a barrier to his success in athletics. He holds a personal best time of 1:02:00 in Houston last month, a rating which puts him as a rank outsider next Sunday but the old fox can pull a surprise on his younger competitors.
Experienced road-runner Samuel Chelanga and Leonard Korir complete the ‘Kenyan’ trio in America’s team. Oil rich Middle Eastern state of Bahrain is all-out for the men’s title as they bank on former Kenyans Albert Rop and Abraham Cheroben while little-known James Theuri will fly France’s flag in the half marathon as Turkey is powered by Kigen Ozbilen.