East African runners to race each other at Athens Olympics

After the world youth and African championships, the quality and promising runners of the three East African countries, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, would race each other in the upcoming Athens Olympic Games.

According to the Kenyan newspaper East African Standard, Kenya with 30 athletes, Tanzania, eight, and Uganda, four, will be chasing a historic feat of each winning at least one gold medal in the mid- and long-distance running events for the time ever.

Numbers may not matter, although predictions show Kenya will win at least one gold medal. Athletics officials are predicting five.

The Ugandan challenge is led by the new world junior champion Boniface Kiprop, Wilson Kipkemei, Pascal Owuor and Dorcas Inzikuruthrough a wildcard entry.

The Tanzanian Olympics team comprises 10,000m Commonwealth Games bronze medalist John Yuda, who was 12th at the Paris World Championships last year in the same event, Samuel Mweura in the 800m, Restituta Joseph in the women’s 5,000m and Banuela Mrashani in the women’s marathon.

Zebedayo Bayo, Samson Ramadhan and Nanda Saya form a formidable marathon trio in an event Tanzania dominated long before Kenyans came on the scene. Tanzania is well represented if not capable of producing a winner. The Olympics marathon remains the most unpredictable event of all athletics races.

The junior world championships in Grosseto, Italy in July offered Uganda and Tanzania a last minute opportunity to increase their numbers. In the end, Kiprop of Uganda and Fabian Joseph of Tanzania reaffirmed their form as top contenders in the star-studded 10,000m field led by Ethiopian world champion and record holder Kenenisa Bekele, who announced he will attempt a double in the 10,000m and 5,000m in Athens. They both ran inside the old championships record of 12 years set by the great Ethiopian Haile Gebrselassie.

The Kenyan team is not leaving anything to chance. They have an intense training program in their Nairobi camp and making impromptu appearances in European Grand Prix races.

Predictions in the marathon have never come true. But Kenya, with a world record holder in Paul Tergat and world champion Catherine Ndereba, could change this.

Paul Tergat holds the world record of 2:04.55. For the other athletes in the team, Sammy Korir is the second fastest in the race while Eric Wainaina, third in Atlanta (1996) and second in Sydney (2000) will be attempting to enter the annals of the Olympics as the first marathoner to win bronze, silver and gold in three consecutive editions.

Margaret lkayo has won in Boston, New York and London in the past three years. Alice Chelagat, though a newcomer is not ranked an outsider as far as medals are concerned.

Kenya’s only worry is the 10,000m where Uganda’s Kiprop is looming high. Even national champion Korir and Moses Mosop say the10,000m gold will be a tall order to take away from the Ethiopians, especially Kenenisa Bekele.

The refreshing aspect of juniors becoming men overnight portends well for Eat Africa in the Olympics.

These Olympics are special for many athletes in the region because most of them are still considered juniors. Brimin Kiprutoof Kenya, Kiprop of Uganda and Fabian Joseph of Tanzania launched their international careers at the world junior athletics championships in Grosseto, Italy, in July.

They are under 20 but boast of the pedigree of seniors, whom they will run against as they chase Olympics dreams in Athens when the track and field program gets underway on August.

If victorious, they will pioneer a tradition of identifying and nurturing futures stars through junior competition from regional to world level which has so well served Kenya but been ignored in Uganda and Tanzania.

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