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Kenya, Ethiopia set for major showdown at African championships
Kenya and Ethiopia are set to renew their legendary rivalry as the 17th CAA African Senior Athletics Championships that gets underway at Nyayo Stadium tomorrow.
Over the years, the two East African neighbours have dominated long distance running globally in a show of rivalry akin to that of Jamaica and America in the sprints.
In fact it is whispered that the two nations contributed highly to the diminished interest among nations in the World Cross Country Championships that they dominated like the proverbial colossus and which has since assumed biennial status.
Ethiopia competed at home during the last edition before frenzied crowds and this time it will be Kenya's turn to compete under home support.
Whether the Kenyan crowd will rally behind their stars to a man like their nemesis did two years ago will be confirmed when the games open.
"I have assembled my troops for the big battle and we are raring to go. It is only the starter's gun that is holding us back before we start harvesting medals," national team coach Stephen Mwaniki said on Tuesday.
"We cannot afford to let down our home fans."
The women's 10,000 metres race is a must-watch event that will pit Olympic champion Tirunesh Dibaba against World Champion Linet Masai. Masai won the event in Berlin in the absence of the Ethiopian running machine who skipped the championships due to an injury.
It will be a battle of wits with Masai wanting to reaffirm her position as the queen of the event with Dibaba out to prove that the Kenyan holds it courtesy of her absence at the 2009 World Championships,a former World Marathon record holder Paul Tergat said yesterday.
The 5,000m women's race will also be a crowd puller that will pit the Kenyan trio led by world champion Vivian Cheruiyot against Dibaba.
These two events will have the making of World or Olympic Championship clashes as it is the same runners who race against each other in the finals of the international events.
The true athletics fan is the person who will turn up at Nyayo Stadium to watch Africa's best athletes, most of whom they have only being watching on television, battle it out for top honours, a LOC Media Director Peter Angwenyi said yesterday.
In the absence of Olympic and World Champion Kenenisa Bekele, the men's 5,000m will be a clash between the battle-hardened former world champion Eliud Kipchoge against Kenenisa's younger brother Tariku.
In a past interview, Kenenisa's father, Byecha, was quoted saying he will never allow Tariku to win over his elder brother when they race against each other. Whether the younger Bekele will mark his turf this time round in the absence of the king is a matter of conjecture.
In the sprints, Nigerians Obinna Metu, Ogho-Oghene Egwero and Benjamin Adukwu will battle for supremacy as they seek to crush compatriot Olusoji Fasuba's African 100m record of 9.98 seconds. Nigeria has entered a squad of 44 athletes and 10 officials.
Kenya will line up Stephen Baraza, Kipkemoi Soi and Simon Kimaru. The men's 10,000m is billed as the clash of the titans. Kenya will be represented by Wilson Kiprop, Geoffrey Mutai and Mathew Kisorio.
Uganda will miss Boniface Kiprop, but will be represented by Geoffrey Kusuro, Abraham Kiplimo and Moses Kipsiro. Ethiopia have Olympic silver medallist Sileshi Sihine and Tariku Bekele. This is a must see race on the opening day of the championships.
The women's 1,500m is an open race, according to Olympic champion Nancy Jebet Lagat, who will be making her second appearance at the continental championship after finishing fourth in Brazzaville in 2004.
She said Ethiopia's Gelete Burka, the World Indoor bronze medallist, Mariem Alaoui Selsouli and upstart Ibtissam Lakhouad both of Morocco are her biggest threats. She lost her only race this season to Burka in a IAAF Golden League meeting in Lausanne two weeks ago but still clocked a personal best.
Burka won in 3:59.28, a world leading time with Lakhouad of Morocco coming second in 3:59.35, a national record and Lagat coming in third with a personal best of 4:00.13.
They are all expected in Nairobi. Grace Kidake, Kenya's champion over the 400m race, Catherine Nandi and Emily Cherotich will be up against Botswana's Amantle Montilo, the reigning Africa champion.