Nairobi, March 21 (IANS) The Kenyans have ruled the World Cross-Country athletics Championships in all the four editions held in Africa. That trend is not about to end as they take their title challenge to Kampala, Uganda, on Saturday.
Head coach Juma Ndiwa, himself a former 800 metres runner, who represented the country in World Championships and Olympics, said there is every sign that the team will rule the roost in the Ugandan capital.
It will also be the fifth time the championships will be hosted by Africa after Rabat in 1975, Johannesburg in 1996, Marrakech in 1998 and Mombasa in 2007, reports Xinhua news agency.
The Kenya team, which has pitched camp in Embu, will be leaving Nairobi for Kampala on Thursday with only one mission — to write history as the ultimate winners before the event moves to Europe, Asia and America.
“Come and watch this team in Kampala. We have the best talent, athletes who are hungry to excel despite their numerous accolades on the international scene. They will not disappoint.
“This does not, however, mean that we are overlooking the opponents. It is a competition and everyone has a target to win. But I believe my team has the hunger and strength to go the extra mile to make sure we have the medals in our vault,” said Ndiwa.
Kenya faces daunting task especially in the senior races as Ethiopia and hosts Uganda plan to topple them from the throne.
However, national women champion Irene Cheptai, who will be leading from the front, has sounded the war tune and thrown down the gauntlet.
“We have the best squad and though they are serious in their attempt to stop us, it is going to be real war on that course,” she said.
Cheptai will team up with defending champion Agnes Tirop, 1,500m Olympic champion Faith Kipyegon, Lillian Kasait, world 3,000 metres steeplechase champion Hyvin Kiyeng and Africa 10,000 metres champion Alice Aprot.
“What makes this team tick is not the individual talent each possess, but the spirit of team work. The team is strong and the training is helping us each day. We will help one another to succeed. We are hoping to get all the medals,” said Kipyegon
Over 600 athletes from 54 countries and regions are expected to compete in Kampala, the highest number of countries and regions represented at the IAAF World Cross-Country Championships since 2009.
Kenya has topped the medal tables at four of the past five editions, but its rivalry with Ethiopia is expected to remain fierce.
The two nations split the four individual titles in 2015 at two apiece, while Ethiopia captured 11 medals in all to Kenya’s nine.
Host Uganda is also expected to wage a strong battle for both individual and team crowns, with Eritrea and Bahrain also likely to play key roles in several of the medal fights.
Others expected in the mix for team medals include Turkey, the United States, Japan, and Great Britain and Northern Ireland.