Ezekiel Kemboi of Kenya won gold medal in the men's 3000 metres steeplechase final during day six (Getty Images) © Copyright
Feature Rome, Italy

In season's debut, Kemboi gunning for Rome meet record - Samsung Diamond League

Despite running in his season's debut, former Olympic and reigning World 3000m Steeplechase champion Ezekiel Kemboi plans to chase the meeting record at the Compeed Golden Gala in Rome on Thursday.

After a quality training period in Eldoret, Kemboi is confident that despite having not donned his racing spikes since last summer, he can make a serious challenge in attacking the performance of 7:56.34 set by World record holder Saif Saaeed Shaheen seven years ago.

The 30-year-old whose consistency sees him traditionally perform at the highest level every time he races, believes the challenge of a head-to-head with his arch Kenyan rival Paul Koech, will see them both make inroads into Shaheen's performance.

"This is my first race of the year and I want to run good," said the two-time World title holder, insisting he doesn't feel race rusty. "Yes, I'm planning to have a fast race - trying maybe to run 7:55."

"That's what I think we can get in good conditions and if we help each other, it is possible," he said of the confrontation expected to take place in perfect weather at the 1960 Olympic Games Stadium.

In a buoyant mood at the pre-event press conference, Kemboi also believes he can also attack the world record of 7:53.63 this year which Kenyan-born Shaheen - the former Kenyan Stephen Cherono now representing Qatar - posted in Brussels almost eight years ago.

"I don't know where and when but I know after the Olympics the record can be broken," said the 2004 Games gold medallist who inexplicably finished outside the medals when seventh in Beijing four years ago.

His determination to win another Olympic gold medal is very much on his mind with the London Games on the horizon, which saw him deliberately delay his seasonal start to concentrate on training.

That meant he was an absentee when Koech made a sensational start in the opening Samsung Diamond League meeting of the year in Doha at the beginning of May. Despite the intense heat he flew to a world leading time of 7:56.58 - just 0.21 shy of the personal best achieved when a 23-year-old and runner up when Shaheen set the Golden Gala record.

Koech, the 2012 Samsung Diamond Trophy winner, easily proved that he has plenty of power in his upper body and legs with that sizzling display which clearly indicates he will also be in the mix in what should be an intriguing race on Thursday night.

"It was too early for me to compete there, I was concentrating on my training which has gone really, really, well," said Kemboi of his fellow countryman's speedy display. "But I was watching in Kenya (on televison) to see who was the strongest."

Kemboi is very determined not only for personal reasons but for the reputation of his country's running mad population to continue the Olympic steeplechase tradition established by Amos Biwott winner of the 1968 Games title in Mexico City and those who followed in his footsteps.

Four years later Kip Keino triumphed and after the distance running legend's success in Munich there was a lull in Kenyan victories until Julius Korir's victory 12 years later in Los Angeles.

Since then the proud representatives of the East African nation have completed a clean sweep of victories courtesy of Julius Kariuki, Matthew Birir, Joseph Keter, Reuben Kosgei and Kemboi himself eight years ago followed by Brimin Kipruto.

Kemboi, although very supportive of the SDL and the quality of its steeplechase competitions, admitted, "I want to win another Olympic gold medal. Titles are more important than the Diamond League," which every athlete and even meeting promoters would agree with.

Without stoking up the situation he revealed he and his fellow world class teammates have an excellent working relationship which can, albeit rarely, explode despite their close friendships and competitive rivalry.

"Sometimes we are friends and sometimes not," he said with a grin on his face before heading off for a massage at the meet hotel. Asked to expand when it worsened, the smile became bigger: "During Championships."

David Martin for the IAAF