Nineteen-year-old Peter Ruto was peerless as he led a small field of 5,000m runners from gun to tape to clock an impressive 16:17.0 at the inaugural edition of the National Deaf Youth Athletics Championship at Kasarani stadium.
Juster Kwamesa clocked 22:08.5 to win the women’s race while Deonida Okiga and Gracy Kendagor came in second and third in 22:13.9 and 25:30.4. In the men’s race, 25-year-old Martin Kamau returned in 20:53.8 for second place.
Deaf Athletics Association of Kenya (DAAK) is using the event, which concludes today, to select a team of athletes aged between 14 and 25 that will represent Kenya at the first Summer Deaflympic Youth Games scheduled for June next year in Armenia.
Ruto trains at Iten with his elder sister Susan Chebet who has been on the track for a while and is venturing into marathon now. He says that he started running at the age of 14 but only competed in school organised races and this is the second race for him outside the school programme.
“I am happy for today’s win and I will keep on training for better times. Deaf people can do well in athletics and I know I can match other athletes who are not deaf and even surpass their achievements in the distance since I train with them and I know my capability,” said Ruto. He took part in this year’s Tuskys cross country event finishing 30th.
Ruto says that his father, David Sichei, was an athlete but former world junior record holder in 10,000m Linet Masai inspired him to start running. “We come from the same family and her prowess in athletics made me want to run. I hope to clinch my first gold medal next year at the Youth Deaflympics,” added an elated Ruto.
In 3,000m Kisii’s Nicholas Odiwuor and Kakamega’s Roselida Meita won in 10:29.7 and 12:38.3 respectively. Meita, a Class Seven pupil at Mumias School for the deaf had qualified for the 2017 Summer Deaflympics held in Turkey but could not compete due to age restrictions for the event as she was 14 at the time.
“I am happy that they have introduced a youth event and I hope to do well in Armenia and bring back gold,” she said.
DAAK secretary Benard Banja is hopeful that the youth team will replicate the results of the deaflympics teams in recent editions. Kenya won 17 medals including six gold, five silver and six bronze) in the 2013 Deaflympic Games to emerge top in Africa and eighth overall out of 72 countries.
At the 2017 Deaflympic Games in Turkey, Kenya won 16 and broke 3 world records in the 1,500m, 3000m Steeplechase and 10,000m men’s races while at it.a reprieve for the youngster after trying out unsuccessfully with Sony Sugar and Chemelil Sugar.