Big names clash at Kip Keino Classic
Local and visiting athletes will be seeking to end the season on a high as well as to attain the qualifying standard for next year’s World Athletics Championships when they line up for the Absa Kip Keino Classic in Nairobi on Saturday.
For most of the touring athletes who are competing in Africa for the first time, it's also a pilgrimage to the continent and especially Kenya, a nation revered for its middle and long distance prowess.
The 2020 Tokyo Olympic champions Faith Kipyegon (1,500 metres) of Kenya, Soufiane El Bakkali (3,000m steeplechase) from Morocco, Uganda’s Peruth Chemutai (3,000m) and Polish Wojciech Nowicki (hammer) are out to sign off the season in great style.
Nowicki and his compatriot Pawel Fajdek who claimed bronze in hammer throw at the Tokyo Olympics on the back of victory in 2017 and 2019 editions of the World Athletics Championships, will renew rivalry in the Kip Keino Classic which is the final leg of the World Athletics Continental Gold Tour.
Tokyo Olympics 200m silver medallist, Christine Mboma from Namibia, and World 100m bronze medallist Marie-Josee Ta Lou of Cote d’Ivoire will highlight women’s 200m.
Two-time world 100m champion Justin Gatlin, this season’s world leader over 100m Trayvon Bromell who is also the 2015 World 100m bronze medallist, and 2020 Olympics 100m silver medallist Fred Kerley are the other big names.
National record holder Ferdinand Omanyala will be out to stop the 2015 World 200m champion Gatlin, who also holds the 2004 Athens Olympics 100m title, and Bromell at the Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani.
Kerley, fresh from claiming the 2021 Diamond League 100m series, has thrown down the gauntlet to his rivals, among them Commonwealth Games 400m champion Isaac Makwala from Botswana in men’s 200m race.
“I am happy to be racing on home soil, this being my last event this season,” said Chepng'etich, who retained her Olympics 1,500m title before winning her second Diamond League series in 1,500m after her 2017 exploits.
She will take on her protégé World Athletics Under-20 Championships 1,500m winner Purity Chepkirui, Continental Cup 1,500m champion Winnie Chebet and 2013 World 5,000m silver medallist Mercy Cherono.
The 2017 World Athletics Under-18 Championships 1,500m bronze medallist, Edinah Jebitok, will also compete in the metric mile race that basically will be an affair between Kenyans and Ethiopians.
Five Ethiopian athletes will compete at Kasarani, among them 2012 world indoor 1,500m silver medallist Axumawit Embaye, African Games 800m champion Hirut Meshesha and Gela Hambese.
Uganda’s Winnie Nanyondo who finished fourth in 800m at the 2019 World Athletics Championships, will also compete in the 1,500m race.
El Bakkali, who ended Kenya’s three-decade dominance in men’s 3,000m steeplechase at the 2020 Olympics, has literally brought the battle for supremacy to the doorstep of the Kenyans.
Tokyo Olympics 3,000m bronze medallist Benjamin Kigen of Kenya might have exacted a measure of revenge against the Moroccan with victory in Zurich Diamond League, but the Tokyo loss still hurts.
And it will hurt even more should the 25-year-old Moroccan, who arrived in the country a week ago, win on Kenyan soil.
“I just want to enjoy myself in Nairobi. Although I know Kenyans haven’t forgotten the Tokyo Olympics moment, I will be under no pressure,” said Bakkali, adding that the Nairobi Tour will be a perfect way to close out the year. “I’m simply looking forward to racing here and coming up against other Kenyan runners who are really wonderful in their own way.”
Besides Kigen, El Bakkali will face newly-crowned world under-20 champion Amos Serem, Commonwealth Games silver medallist Abraham Kibiwott and 2016 world under-20 champion Amos Kirui. Ethiopia will be represented in the race by Chala Beyo, Samuel Firewu and Abraham Sime.
Chemutai, the surprise winner in Tokyo, will face a horde of Kenyan athletes led by the two-time former world under-20 champion Celliphine Chespol, and 2014 Commonwealth Games champion Purity Kirui.
Last year’s winner and world record holder, Beatrice Chepkoech and Tokyo Olympics bronze medallist Hyvin Kiyeng will be missing in action.
Mboma, who has lit up the athletics scene with her incredible performances, returns to the venue where she ran a championship record 21.84sec to win the world under-20 women’s 200m race.
Mboma improved her own world record in under-20 when she won the Diamond League series in 21.78 in Zurich, beating Olympic 100m bronze medallist Shericka Jackson from Jamaica and World 200m champion Dina Asher-Smith of USA. With Ta Lou and Mboma in the mix, the race could yield quicker time.
It remains to be seen how Omanyala, who has a national record time of 9.86sec, will handle Gatlin and Bromell in the 100m race.
Gatlin, who won the Olympic title in 100m in 2004 Athens, took silver at 2016 Rio but missed the 2020 Olympics after finishing eighth at the US trials. Bromell won the US trials in 9.98sec and went to Tokyo as one of the favourites to succeed Jamaican Usain Bolt. He has a world lead of 9.77 from his victory at New Life Invitational on June 5 at Ansin Sports Complex, Florida.
However, Bromell, who failed to go past the semi-finals in Tokyo, came second in 9.94 in Brussels Diamond League where Kerley won in 9.94, with Omanyala fourth in 10.02. The Kenyan was making his debut in the Diamond League.
Kenya’s Mary Moraa will take on world 800m champion Halimah Nakaayi from Uganda in the women's 800m, while Olympic silver medallist Ferguson Rotich will highlight men's 800m battle that has Cornelius Tuwei and Collins Kipruto.
World under-20 champion Vincent Keter and Olympic fourth-place finisher Abel Kipsang will battle in the men's 1,500m.
The 2018 World under-20 5,000m champion, Edward Zakayo, Nicholas Kimeli and Jacob Krop clash in the 5,000m while World 10,000m bronze medallist Agnes Tirop, who is fresh from setting a new world record in 10km in Germany, will take on 2017 World Cross Country bronze medallist Lilian Kasait, and world 5,000m silver medallist Margaret Chelimo in women's 5,000m.
The race also has world under-20 3,000m champion Teresiah Muthoni and Eva Cherono.