My stories on day 1, 2 and 3 of the Kenyan Olympic Trials

Hellen Obiri after winning the world 5000m title in Doha. Photo courtesy of World Athletics

Day one:

A quality field in the women’s 5000m straight final marked the beginning of the Kenyan Olympic Trials at the Kasarani Stadium in Nairobi. All the big names, nine of them, stuck together up to the last 800m of the race when there was a quick increase in the pace as the runners jostled for their vantage positions coming to the bell.

Lilian Kasait who had been patient throughout the race, suddenly came to the front in the last lap and sprinted with about 300m. A single file formed behind her as Hellen Obiri fought hard to close her gap, in vain. Kasait took the title followed by Obiri in second and Agnes Tirop in third. Margaret Chelimo, Beatrice Chebet and Mercy Cherono followed for 4th, 5th and 6th places.

Faith Kipygon, as expected, easily won the women’s 1500m final leading from gun to tape. Winnie Chebet, the only other woman to have made the qualification time on the start list finished second.

If there was a category for the happiest athlete of the day, the title would have easily gone to Mark Otieno.

“I have traveled to other countries to compete and seek an Olympic qualifying time, but, to imagine that it just happened here in my own country, at the last try is just amazing!” Otieno could hardly contain his excitement after he, behind Ferdinand Omanyala in the men’s 100m final, ran the qualifying time. The two embraced each other at the finish line as they added to the list of the athletes who made the Olympic team on the first day of the trials.

Daniel Ebenyo won the first semi-final of the men’s 5000m while Nicholas Kimeli won the second semi-final. The final event will be on Saturday. 

US-based runners, Emmanuel Korir and Michael Saruni won the first and second semifinals of the men’s 800m races respectively. However, the intensity of the competition in the two semi-finals is a great indication that the final of this event will be a tough race and there might be some huge upsets given that the three Olympic slots will not be enough to be shared by all the big names, including Ferguson Rotich, Wycliffe Kinyamal, and others in the field.

Day two:

On the second day of the Kenyan Olympic trials, the two biggest track events were the men’s 10,000m and the women's 3000m steeplechase finals.

Rhonex Kipruto controlled the first stages of the men’s 10,000m race ensuring that it was a fast one, but given the quality of the invited runners, as expected, the pack kept together.  Kamworor was always on the heels of Kipruto as the field kept disintegrating into a single file behind them within the first seven minutes.

At some point, after around the 4000m, Kipruto motioned to Kamworor to overtake and take a turn in doing the pacing duty as well. But, it was not yet his time. There was some hesitation and the pace slowed down a bit as a pack of about 10 runners began to form again at the front. Kipruto made another surge.

The leading pack suddenly reduced to three at around the 6000m point; they were Kamworor, Rodgers Kwemoi and Kipruto. It was finally Kamworor's turn to take up the pacing duties before calling Kwemoi to momentarily move to the front. Then, as Kipruto began to show a slight sign of weakness, Kamworor moved to the shoulder of Kwemoi and seemed to ask him to slightly increase the pace and break away from Kipruto. It worked. The two training partners were soon clear ahead and Kamworor took up the pacing duties again as Kwemoi concentrated on preventing a gap from forming between them.

At the bell, Kamworor who appeared to be in great form began to open up a gap between him and Kwemoi. He saluted to the invited guests on the dais on the home stretch as he went ahead to cross the finish in a new Stadium record of 27:01, and probably the fastest 10,000m time ever run on Kenyan soil. Kwemoi followed for second place.

The women’s 3000m steeplechase race went to Hyvin Kiyeng. Despite taking to the front in her trademark front running, Beatrice Chepkoech did not make the pace as fast as she would often do, perhaps after weighing the level of competition behind her and seeing no big threat to her chances of making the Olympic team. Towards the end, the race was between her and Kiyeng, and there was no elaborate push to win the race as the two crossed the last barrier together before Kiyeng opened a slight gap just before the finish line.

Day three:

When a runner is in good form, they can easily control the race from the start and still go ahead to win it in a huge margin. This was the case in the women’s 10,000m final at the just concluded Kenyan Olympic trials in Nairobi. Hellen Obiri led almost the entire race with occasional surges that would whittle down the size of the leading pack each time she made the move. With less than 5 laps to go, she was already alone at the front before winning the race in a sub 31 minute time at altitude. Irene Cheptai secured the second place.

There was a huge surprise in the men’s 1500m final as Charles Simotwo won it with a strong finishing kick in the last 50m of the race. Well, this will now definitely leave the Olympic contenders from other countries in total confusion after they had been studying how to beat Timothy Cheruiyot in Tokyo. Cheruiyot failed to make the team after finishing in fourth position.

Abraham Kibiwott exhibited some great form in the men’s 3000m steeplechase race but waited for his friend, Leornard Bett in the home stretch so that they could cross the finish line together.  Conseslus Kipruto had featured at the front in the first few laps before dropping out.

The men’s 800m final was intense and thrilling. Michael Saruni managed to break away in the last 100m to win it followed by Ferguson Rotich for second place and Emmanuel Korir managing to navigate through an outside lane to secure the third position.

Nicholas Kimeli ran a spectacular men’s 5000m race. Except for Daniel Ebenyo who was closely following him, all the other competitors were each running their own solo race after a fast pace completely scattered the entire field. In a show of tremendous form, Kimeli registered an impressive time at high altitude to win the race ahead of Ebenyo.

Mary Moraa will be one of the stars who will be carrying the hopes for a Kenyan medal in the women’s 800m race in Tokyo after she got her ticket by winning the race at the trials today. Eunice Sum finished 3rd.

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