Ever since the inaugural edition in 1999 when they topped the medals table, Kenya has been a dominant force at the IAAF World U18 Championships.
In 100 days’ time, the Kenyan capital Nairobi will host the biennial championships for athletes aged 17 and younger and the host nation can be expected to add to their tally of 43 gold medals.
This year’s staging will be the final edition of the World U18 Championships as the IAAF will instead devote more resources to area championships at the U18 level. But it is fitting that the last staging will be in a country that has provided so many memorable performances at the championships over the past 18 years.
At the first ever World Youth Championships, as it was then known, several young Kenyan athletes made their international breakthrough. Stephen Cherono – who later changed his name to Saif Saaeed Shaheen when he represented Qatar – won gold in the 2000m steeplechase. Just four years later, he won the first of his two world titles and went on to break the world record in 2004.
Other Kenyan highlights in Bydgoszcz came in the girls’ 3000m where Alice Timbilili took gold with compatriot Vivian Cheruiyot taking bronze. Pius Muli may not have gone on to enjoy the same kind of senior success as Shaheen or Cheruiyot, but he can lay claim to being one of the few runners to have beaten Kenenisa Bekele as he finished ahead of the Ethiopian star to win the boys’ 3000m.
Isaac Songok produced one of the talking points of the championships when winning the 1500m in a championship record of 3:36.78, finishing three seconds clear of his nearest opponent.
Although he was beaten, Debrecen was where Brimin Kipruto won his first international medal. Just three years after taking the world youth 2000m steeplechase silver medal, Kipruto earned a medal of the same hue at the 2004 Olympics. He went on to win the 2007 world title and 2008 Olympic title.
Augustine Choge was one of Kenya’s three gold medallists in Sherbrooke in 2003. He had missed out on a medal in the junior race at the World Cross Country Championships earlier that year and so was still relatively unknown before heading to Sherbrooke. But his convincing victory in the 3000m marked him out as a future star and he has since established himself as one of the most versatile distance runners in the world.
Of Kenya’s five gold medallists in Marrakesh, four of them set championship records. But Abel Mutai went one better and smashed the world youth best to win the 2000m steeplechase.
Mutai led a Kenyan 1-2 with compatriot Bisluke Kiplagat also finishing well inside the previous world youth best. Mutai went on to win the senior African title in 2012 and earn the bronze medal at the Olympic Games later that year.
Mercy Cherono kick-started Kenya’s campaign at the 2007 World Youths in the best possible fashion, winning the first track final of the championships. She clocked a championship record of 8:53.94 to win the 3000m, a victory which marked the start of a superb career that has included three global junior titles and a world silver medal.
For the first time since 1999, Kenya topped the medals table after winning 14 medals in Bressanone, six of them gold.
They recorded 1-2 finishes in the boys’ 1500m, 3000m and 2000m steeplechase and took golds in the girls’ 800m, 1500m and 3000m. One of Kenya’s medallists in Bressanone was Caleb Ndiku, who is now of the country’s top distance stars, having won the world indoor 3000m title in 2014 and world 5000m silver in 2015.
More gold medals, world youth bests and championship records came Kenya’s way in 2011 in Lille. Leonard Kosencha won the 800m in a stunning world U18 best of 1:44.08. Conseslus Kipruto took the 2000m steeplechase title while Faith Kipyegon clocked a championship record to win the 1500m. Both Kipruto and Kipyegon went on to take gold medals in their specialist events at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
Robert Biwott ran away from the field to win the boys’ 1500m in a championship record of 3:36.77, winning by more than five seconds. 800m winner Alfred Kipketer also front-ran his way to victory and somehow managed to hold on to the lead after covering the first lap in a blistering 48.63.
Biwott’s 1500m championship record lastest just two years as compatriot Kumari Taki won the metric mile in Cali in 3:36.38.
Kenya picked up two medals in six different disciplines in the Colombian city. All 13 of the Kenyan medallists from that championships are still teenagers, but if the country’s past record is anything to go by, several of them could go on to feature on the podium at future senior global championships.
Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF