Florence Kiplagat en route to the Kenyan title in Nairobi (© Elias Makori)
From a trickle to a floodthat’s just how incentives have been flowing in for Kenya’s team to the 37th IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Amman.
With the global financial crisis eating into every corner of the globe, any cash consideration of any value is vastly welcome and things have hardly been any different for the talented Kenyan runners.
While in camp, they are entitled to a daily allowance of 5,000 shillings a day, which roughly translates to about $60.
And as they departed for Amman on Tuesday, Athletics Kenya handed out a bonus $60 to each athlete seeking to lift their morale higher after their close to a month’s training camp at the Kigari Teachers Training College in Embu, about 200 kilometres north of Kenya’s capital Nairobi.
The Kenya Commercial Bank, sponsors of the six-meet Kenya national cross country series that built up towards the national trials for Amman, hoisted the runners’ spirits even higher with a pledge of Sh250,000 ($3000) to each of the medallists this weekend, and a further $3000 for the overall team title.
At a farewell luncheon for the team on Tuesday in Nairobi, Kenya’s sports minister, Prof. Hellen Sambili, promised a further Sh300,000 ($3750) for gold medallists in Amman.
“We are going for a battle and it’s not a simple battle. But it is one that we have prepared for,” Athletics Kenya secretary general David Okeyo said.
“This is one of the best teams we have ever assembled and they have a high level of discipline, that’s why we decided to give them the extra financial motivation despite the fact that we are not a very rich federation.”
For Prof. Sambili’s sports ministry, athletics is a huge priority and the incentives offered by far surpassed what was in store for Kenya’s rugby and football teams that will also be in action this weekend.
While the national football team will be engaged in a 2010 World Cup qualifier against Tunisia on Saturday, the rugby team is away for the weekend’s Hong Kong Sevens tournament.
Team coach Kirwa – ‘This is the strongest team ever’
Head coach Julius Kirwa is sure he has assembled one of the country’s best teams ever that will be looking for a clean sweep of the individual titles for the first time since 1994.
That was when Kenya won all the four individual titles through William Sigei (men’s long course), Philip Mosima (junior men), Hellen Chepng’eno (women’s long course) and Sally Barsosio (junior women).
“We are ready and all set to capture the individual and team titles in the junior and senior competitions,” Kirwa said as the team left Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport for the trip to Jordan.
“The senior women’s gold medal has eluded us since 1994 but the team I have is the strongest ever and I’m sure things will be different this time round.”
While Moses Mosop and Florence Kiplagat are Kenya’s main bets for gold in the senior races, Mercy Cherono and Paul Tanui look good going by the training in Embu.
The 18-year-old Cherono, the first born in a family of five, already has the World Youth and World Junior 3000m titled tucked under her belt and clearly represents the future of Kenyan women’s running.
In 2007 in Mombasa, she finished 23rd but she was then just 15 and Kenya’s youngest team member. She has had a fine 2008/09 cross country season and looks unstoppable on the way to another global junior athletics gold in Amman.
Tanui finished second at the national trials behind John Kemboi but has shown a lot of verve at the Embu camp with many pundits willing to place a bet on him coming out tops on Saturday.
Besides the cash packages, the Kenyan team couldn’t have been given a more symbolic send-off that they got when five times world cross country champions John Ngugi and Paul Tergat made an early morning visit to their camp and held a final training session together with the group.
“If I could do it in my day, what stops you from following suit,” Ngugi told them.
Kenya’s team in Amman:
Senior men’s 12km: Moses Mosop, Mathew Kisorio, Mark Kiptoo, Linus Chumba, Mangata Ndiwa, Leonard Komon.
Senior women’s 8km: Florence Kiplagat, Innes Chenonge, Linet Masai, Linet Chepkurui, Anne Karindi, Pauline Korikwiang.
Junior men’s 8km: John Kemboi, Paul Tanui, Japhet Korir, John Chepkwony, Titus Mbishei, Charles Bett Chepkirui.
Junior women’s 6km: Mercy Cherono, Hilda Chepkemoi, Delvin Meringor, Jackline Chebii, Faith Chepng’etich, Nelly Chebet.
Elias Makori for IAAF