By Margaret Kalekye/Xinhua
World champion in 1500m Asbel Kiprop of Kenya is making a return to cross country after ten years and still hope to excel when the championship is held in Kampala, Uganda in March.
Kiprop last competed at the event in 2007 when Mombasa, Kenya hosted the competition winning in junior men’s race.
He kept off the event and has only returned not to compete in the same event but a new relay event, which is being introduced for the first time in Uganda.
However, after securing a slot in the Kenya team, Kiprop is optimistic, he will weather the storm in Kampala and win another medal in cross country.
“Good to be back in Kigari training camp in Embu (Kenya) after exactly 10 years. It’s a special moment. There’s a difference since 2007 team I can see only Leornard Komon, who was on this team a decade ago,” said Kiprop.
Indeed with a huge talent pool to draw from, Kenya has never lacked replacement and each team has had its strength and with Kampala next, Kiprop is certain the country will deliver the medals as it comes up against host Uganda, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Bahrain, Qatar and USA who have dominated the championships.
This year’s event will mark the 42nd edition of the global cross country championships. It will also be the fifth time the championships will be hosted by Africa after Rabat in 1975, Stellenbosch in 1996, Marrakech in 1998 and Mombasa in 2007.
While Kampala is expected to add to that rich tradition that now spans more than four decades, it will also add a new chapter with the inaugural mixed relay.
The 8km race will be contested by teams composed of two men and two women who will each run a 2km loop, in any order.
The runners will pass a wrist band that serves as the baton through an exchange, or takeover zone, that’s 20m in length.
The programme will then continue with the traditional races: a 6km U20 women’s race, an 8km U20 men’s race, a senior women’s 10km and senior men’s 10km.
Notably, Kampala marks the first time that senior women will race the same distance as the senior men.
Nearly 600 athletes from 54 member federations are expected to compete in Kampala, the highest number of countries and regions represented at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships since 2009.
Kenya has topped the medal tables at four of the past five editions, but its rivalry with Ethiopia is expected to remain fierce. The two nations split the four individual titles in 2015 at two apiece, while Ethiopia captured 11 medals in all to Kenya’s nine.
Host Uganda is also expected to wage a strong battle for both individual and team crowns, with Eritrea and Bahrain also likely to play key roles in several of the medal fights.