Sunday July 25, 2010
Posted by Mihira Lakshman
As the week progressed, the Kenyan runners seemed to become more and more confident.
At Mount Allison University, where the team was staying for the duration of the IAAF World Junior Track and Field Championships, the lanky Kenyan distance athletes were spotted running around the campus waving their flag.
They were practicing their victory laps.
"Slowly, slowly -- [that's] too fast," one would say to the other, before handing the flag off.
Kenya topped the medal count with 15, inlcuding seven gold. The United States also won 15 medals, but had fewer golds (6) than the African powerhouse. Canada finished with two bronze.
Moncton also introduced Canadians to future Olympic stars such as sprinters Dexter Lee of Jamaica, and Kirani James of Grenada. Sweden's 17-year-old Angelica Bengtsson, who won the pole vault, and Dutch heptathlon sensation Daphne Schippers will likely play key roles in the 2016 Olympics.
The Americans made a late charge in the medal standings, winning all four relay gold medals in the final two days of the meet.
But the Kenyans won medals in every men's and women's distance race from 800 metres to the 10,000. In some cases, the margin of victory was laughable.
Take the 10,000, for example, when Dennis Masai lapped the entire field except the medallists, winning in 27:53.88. Both the men's and women's 3,000-metre steeplechase races also featured convincing Kenyan victories, in an event that has become a national pasttime.
"It wasn't a very tight race," Jonathan Ndiku said of his 10-second victory in the steeplechase. "I was just trying to enjoy the race."
While only one Kenyan could take the gold medal in each race, the other Kenyan usually wasn't far behind, often occupying another spot on the podium.
Ndiku was a big star at this meet, but it's a different story at the Kenyan national team trials for major games like the Olympics. Despite being among the best in the world -- for any age group -- Ndiku's personal best of 8:17.28 might not even place among the top 3 at Kenya's Olympic trials.
The new generation of Kenyan distance runners appeared to be armed with a message in Moncton -- targetted at the Ethiopian competitors.
They used team tactics in most races to break the top Ethiopian in the event. They rarely let anything come down to a kick over the final 200 metres. The Kenyans dictated the pace, controlling the surges and key points of almost all distance events.
"At the senior level in the last few years the Ethiopians had really been dominating," said Kevin Sullivan, Canadian record holder in the 1500 metres.
"This is a testament to the Kenyans, who are getting their program back on track. It's an [effort] to dominate at the senior level in the future. We're seeing this resurgence with their juniors coming through here."
American Robby Andrews, a bronze medallist in the 800, had the world junior-leading time of 1:45.54, coming into the meet. But Kenya's David Mutua passed him in the final few strides, and he wound up third.
"They seem to work very very hard," Andrews said of the Kenyan distance runners. "I mean look at [Mutua]. He's a horse. You can't feel too bad losing to him. And I beat [Kenya's Dickson Tuwei], so that's a plus."
The Americans actually placed two runners on the podium in that race, with Casimir Loxsom taking the silver.
These kind of results -- along with Mohammed Ahmed of St. Catharine's, Ont., who was fourth in the 10,000, and Moncton's Genevieve Lalonde's sixth in the 3,000 steeplechase -- give Sullivan hope for the future.
"As you move into the senior ranks, the gaps start to close a little bit," Sullivan said.
There are rumours floating around that Kenya may have had one or two over-age runners on its team -- one report has suggested that Paul Lonyangata, bronze medallist in the 10,000, might be a year too old for a junior competition.
But at its final press conference of the meet, IAAF General Secretary Pierre Weiss said investigations haven't revealed any violations.
The IAAF has promised a crackdown on over-age competitors, through detailed passport and document checks. But in Moncton, only one Chinese athlete was thrown out for being too old.
About the Author
Mihira Lakshman is an avid distance runner and has covered track and field for the CBC, and various other publications, since 2001.
He covered the 2003 Pan-Am Games, as well as several national championships over the past decade. He is also an online editor with Canadian Running magazine.