Three-time world 1500m champion Asbel Kiprop and women’s silver medallist Faith Kipyegon will headline the list of top Kenyan performers at the Olympic selection trials which start on Thursday.
The two-day event is being held at Eldoret’s Kipchoge stadium, right in the heartland of the sport, outside its traditional venue of Nairobi for the first time.
The trials come with Kenya under scrutiny over its flagging doping system, necessitating changes to legislation to avoid explusion of its world-beating distance runners from August’s Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
In May, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) declared Kenya non-compliant after the legislation to criminalise doping passed in parliament failed to meet its requirements, forcing a review to include sections which had been left out from the original draft passed by WADA.
“Our athletes have performed well since the start of the season, and we expect very tough competition in Eldoret,” Kenya’s veteran athletics coach Julius Kirwa told AFP.
“We should be able to pick one of the best teams for Rio. It will have a nice mixture of both veteran and up-and-coming athletes.”
Kiprop, the 2008 Olympic champion and Kipyegon, who won the 1500m silver at the Beijing world championships behind Genzebe Dibaba of Ethiopia, are both unbeaten this season and are currently top of the leaderboard in the IAAF Diamond League in their respective events.
The powerful duo arrive at the Olympic trials fresh from their wins in the Oslo Diamond League earlier this month and are both expected to shine on Thursday and Friday.
The men’s 800 metres, which pits Olympic champion David Rudisha against a host of young pretenders, is likely to be just one of many intense encounters.
The 27-year-old Rudisha has been struggling to find the form that carried him to an Olympic title and world record in London in 2012.
Despite a dominant pre-season race performances over two 800 metres in Australia in March, and in the rarely-run 600m at Birmingham, where he set an African record of 1:13.10, Rudisha was however well beaten at the Shanghai and Stockholm Diamond League meetings.
A starter’s error caused him a late start in Shanghai, but the two-time world champion threw away a commanding lead in the Swedish capital to finish a disappointing fourth behind his Kenyan arch-rival Ferguson Rotich, France’s Pierre-Ambroise Bosse and Poland’s world silver medallist Adam Kszczot.
Rotich, who was only fourth at the world championships in Beijing, won both the Shanghai and Stockholm races, and will be hot favourite to win at the trials, where the top two athletes across the line will be guaranteed places for Rio.
World junior champion Alfred Kipketer (1:45.93), Willy Tarbei and Kipyegon Bett, who secured Kenya’s 1-2 for the first time in 10 years at last year’s IAAF World Youth Championships in Cali, Colombia will also be in contention.
Others are newcomers Nicholas Kiplangat Kipkoech and Jonathan Kiprotich Kitilit, who hold the season’s best times of 1:43.37 and 1:43.48 respectively.
Like Rudisha, world javelin champion Julius Yego hopes to improve on his performance ahead of the Rio Olympics.
Unbeaten at home, Yego, Kenya’s first ever world field gold medallist, has struggled on the Diamond League against the resurgent African champion, Ihab Abdelrahman of Egypt and world record holder, Thomas Rohler of Germany.
Yego was placed third behind Abdelrahman and Rohler at the Stockholm Diamond League with a throw of 83:09 metres.