Early season in Kenya sees runners of all talents and distance pedigrees beginning their racing season. Here is how Justin Lagat, our correspondent in Kenya relates one of the meets…
1500M UPSETS 5000M RUNNERS IN THEIR OWN DISTANCE
The 3rd AK (Athletics Kenya) meeting happened this past week at the Afraha Stadium in Nakuru, on Thursday the 4th and Friday the 5th (April). This was perhaps the first open meeting to be hugely attended by athletes since the first two lacked enough publicity because they were affected by the changes caused by the election period extending more than had been anticipated. In fact, most athletes I met in Nakuru, and myself included, were not even aware that a 2nd AK meeting actually took place in Bondo in the previous week.
Anyway, the meeting in Nakuru was greatly exciting. Many long and middle distance stars graced the meeting and among those who stood with me in the line-up for the 5,000m race on Thursday included Ezekiel Kemboi, Asbel Kiprop, Agustine Choge, Silas Kiplagat, Kathimba, Vincent Chepkok, Joseph Ebuya, Nixon Chepseba and Paul Kipsiele Koech. In case you are wondering how the steeple chase runners; Ezekiel Kemboi, Paul Koech and another Ugandan, Benjamin Kiplagat, ended up at the 5,000m start, it happened because the 3000m race was scrapped from the program due to the bad condition of the track section leading to the water barrier caused by the rainy season. So, this was typically a race between the 1500m and the 5000m specialists, with a few steeple chase runners in the group.
The announcement for us to avail ourselves at the start line was made amid some showers, and we were already wet when we arrived at the start line. We were many, and so were to be divided into 12 heats of about 15 athletes in each, but as soon as the first heat took off, the organizers decided to reduce the number of heats and so my second heat and the remaining ones had about 30 athletes in each. The first heat that had Nixon Chepseba, Asbel Kiprop, Ezekiel Kemboi and Paul Koech in it posted the best times and Chepseba emerged the overall winner of the 5000m event, beating the real bigwigs of the event. It affirmed my research that most 5000m meter runners should actually start using the program that is deemed best for the 1500m runners. Kenyan long distance runners of late seem to be doing endurance runs at the expense of their speed.
The following day, I made the same observation in the women’s 5000m race where another 1500m specialist, Hellen Obiri, also upset a field of renowned 5000m runners by opening a 150 meter gap between her and the second position. Her time of 15:49 was impressive. Anne Wanjiru and Gladys Chemweno battled it out for the second position and arrived at 16:10, a few micro-seconds between them.
The most catching moment of the day was a spectacular women’s 1500m race between Eunice Sum and Nancy Jebet Lagat. The rest of the runners were left behind as the two ran a shoulder to shoulder finishing kick almost from the remaining 300m. Almost everyone stood up in the stadium as they cheered. It was Sum who edged slightly ahead at the finish line as they finished the race and hugged each other as they watched the rest still tackling the last bend.
All the sprints were dominated by Boniface Mweresa in the men’s side. A number of false starts saw a number of athletes getting disqualified here. I remember one guy observing humorously that he should have registered for the race just in case all the other runners would get disqualified and he could jog alone to the finish line!
Hiram Olbilen, a Kenyan born who runs for Turkey, won the men’s 800m event while Mary Kuria won the women’s.
Caleb Mwangangi also did a fast run in the men’s 10,000m event posting a time of 28:39, which is one of the rare times to be posted on Kenya’s rough tracks at high altitude. By the second lap, the field was already in a single file with an 800m runner, possibly trying to post his personal best time in the first 800 meters of the distance, leading. My time at the 800m mark was 2:10, yet I was still a few meters behind the leaders! But, consequently, because of the fast start, most athletes dropped out from this race.
Three other AK open meetings will take place in Thika, Mumias and finally in Eldoret in the following weeks.