All eyes will be on reigning world cross-country champions Japhet Korir, Emily Chebet and Faith Kipyegon at the 20th KCB/Athletics Kenya National Championships, the final meeting in the 2013-14 IAAF Cross Country Permit series, in Nairobi on Saturday (15).
Korir has had a solid season racing in Europe thus far, with three good outings last month.
He won in Antrim, Northern Ireland, before finishing second and third in the Italian town of San Giorgio su Legnano and then the Spanish city of San Sebastian. Now he returns home to race on Kenyan soil for the first time since he finished sixth at the Nationals 12 months ago, which earned him selection for Bydgoszcz where he caused a big upset to scale the heights at the global showpiece.
The senior men’s 12km race will witness noted and fearsome front runners coming head to head, including the 2011 world junior cross-country champion Geoffrey Kipsang Kamworor, the fastest marathoner ever Geoffrey Mutai and world 5000m bronze medallist Isiah Koech.
The first pair have chased each other to one-two finishes at successive Kenya Police Cross Country Championships and will take on last year’s surprise national champion, Philemon Rono. Also in the loaded field is the 2010 world cross-country champion Joseph Ebuya.
Newly-crowned local series jackpot winner Fredrick Musyoki ranks among the dark horses to make the top three, alongside two-time Kenya Defence Forces champion Leonard Oloitiptip.
Kipyegon out to capitalise on Cinque Mulini win
Chebet, the repeat winner in Poland after her triumphs in 2010 and 2013, is among the seasoned campaigners that will give the two-time world junior cross-country champion Kipyegon a proper introduction to the senior ranks.
She has yet to race this year but won four out of four domestic cross-country races at the start of 2013 en route to collecting the 2013 local series jackpot.
Kipyegon, who turned 20 on 10 January, won the famous Cinque Mulini cross country race in Italy three weeks ago in her first race in the senior ranks so it will be interesting to see how she fares against the likes of Chebet and many other experienced Kenyan runners.
Alongside Chebet and Kipyegon in the senior women’s 8km race is the world 5000m silver medallist Mercy Cherono.
Cherono has had two good, if perhaps not spectacular, outings so far this year in high-profile Spanish cross-country races including third place at the IAAF Cross Country Permit meeting in Seville.
Cherono’s Police team-mate Janet Kisa, the 2011 national junior champion, along with 2012 Boston Marathon champion Sharon Cherop, and world 10,000m silver medallist Gladys Cherono also add lustre to the senior women’s race.
The junior men’s 8km event has traditionally been, in recent years, the most open of the four races and 2014 is no exception.
Moses Mukono, who was 11th at the 2013 World Cross Country Championships, recently wrapped up the local series jackpot with three wins in the six races and, after third place here last year, is the slight favourite this time around.
Ronald Chebolei, the surprise victor in the nationals last season before finishing ninth in Bydgoszcz, has had a winter to forget on the domestic front so may struggle in the defence of his title.
The junior women’s 6km race will be all about the successor to Kipyegon, with Roseline Chepng’etich, Caroline Chepkirui and Sheila Keter all potential candidates to ascend to the throne.
Confirmed foreign entries have been received from Bahrain, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Uganda.
Kenyan runners will be aiming not only for domestic honours but to also to punch their tickets for the African Cross Country Championships in Kampala, Uganda, on 15 March as there is no World Cross Country Championships this year.
With wet and dry weather alternating over recent days, Nairobi’s Uhuru Gardens course, which has been used for the past four years to stage this event, could provide a tough and muddy surface that could still prove to be challenging for some of the finest distance runners in the world.
Mutwiri Mutuota (Capital FM) for the IAAF