Under-18 Championships: 800m Kenya’s forte

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By AYUMBA AYODI
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Since Nicholas Wachira claimed victory for Kenya at the inaugural 1999 World Under-18 Championships in Poland, the country has gone on to dominate the boys’ 800m races in five more editions.

The 2015 Cali, Colombia and 2005 Marrakech, Morocco competitions were particularly memorable for the country after its athletes staged a 1-2 sweep.

Willy Tarbei and Kipyegon Bett scooped the first two podium places in Cali while Gilbert Keter and Jackson Kivuna ruled in Marrakech.

Notably, Leonard Kosencha’s championships record time of 1:44.08 with victory in boys’ 800m in 2011 Lille, France still stands to date.

Other winners of the two-lap race at the world youth competition are Alfred Kipketer (2013), Geoffrey Kibet (2007) as Kenya missed out in 2009, 2003 and 2001 to Kenyan-born Salem Amer Al Badri (Moses Chirchir) of Qatar.

With Kenya yet to lose the title since Kosencha’s exploits, pressure is on Noah Kiprono and Japhet Kibiwott to deliver victory when the world youth championships get underway on Wednesday at Kasarani.

The two, who are former 400m runners, have not only vowed to stage a repeat of the 2015 and 2005 feats but also to break Kosencha’s record.

“We have no second chance, because this is the last youth championships edition,” said Kiprono, the form three student at Baringo High school.

“We are at home and we just have to sign off in style,” added Kiprono, who beat Kibiwott during the World Under-18 trials.

“It won’t matter if Kibiwott is to beat me in the final.”

Kibiwott, who is a Form Four student at St Patrick’s High School Iten, not only wants to emulate his role model Willy Tarbei but also former schoolmate David Rudisha, who is the reigning Olympic and World 800m champion. 

“It will be embarrassing if we let the title slip away from us,” said Kibiwott, who shifted from decathlon to 400m, winning the National Secondary Schools title in 2016.

“We must perform well in the heats and semi-finals since anything can happen at that stage.”

It’s Rudisha’s Irish coach Colm O’Connel who advised Kibiwott to move up to 800m this year.

Even though Kibiwott, who dumped football in Class Seven at Matunge Primary School in Elgeyo Marakwet for athletics, didn’t perform well at the National Secondary School Games in Mombasa, he rebound in style when he participated in the IAAF World Under-18 Championships trials and finished second behind Kiprono.

“My teacher (Mr Njoroge) thought that I would become a good sprinter since I was pretty fast in midfield when playing football for the school team,” said Kibiwott. He won bronze in 400m during the national games in 2012 and silver in 2013.

Kibiwott participated in decathlon at St Patrick’s but quit for 400m last year.

Kiprono, who embraced athletics in 2013 while in class seven where he went on to represent his school up to the regional level, won bronze in 400m.

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