Kenya put on an exceptional show at the just concluded World Indoor Championships in Turkey and the Africa Cross Country Championships in Cape Town.
The women, in particular, saved the region some blushes by claiming two gold medals, while the male athletes, who opted for an early pace that proved counterproductive, settled for silver and bronze.
The results from the Africa Cross Country Championship weren’t a replica of last year when Kenya swept all the individual and team titles but still, winning six out of eight titles was phenomenal.
The naysayers were silenced when Pamela Jelimo, who is also the reigning Olympic Games 800m champion and the fast-rising Hellen Obiri pulled off a magnificent victories in the 800m and 3,000m respectively.
The victory was particularly emotional for Jelimo, who is out to rescue a career that had plummeted owing to injuries she sustained just after winning Kenya its first Olympic title at the 2008 games in Beijing.
Obiri’s victory not only erased the misfortune of the 2011 World Championships in Daegu where she tripped and fell during the 1,500m final but halted a successive title for Ethiopia’s Meseret Defar.
Kenya’s other previous indoors wins are by Paul Korir (1,500m, 2004), Bernard Lagat (3,000m, 2004) and Wilfred Bungei (800m, 2006). Lagat is now a US citizen.
Tactical errors by Kenyans Augustine Choge and Edwin Soi, and Uganda’s Moses Ndiema Kipsiro handed Lagat his third consecutive title in the 3,000m.
Choge, the 2005 Commonwealth Games 5,000m champion settled for silver, Soi got bronze while Kipsiro, the 2012 World Championships 5,000m bronze medallist, finished a distant seventh.
The men also disappointed in the 800m when favourite Boaz Lalang, Timothy Kitum of Kenya, and Uganda’s Julius Mutekanga fell in the semi-finals of the race that went to Ethiopian Mohammed Aman who won the race.
Kenya’s Silas Kiplagat fizzled to a distant seventh in the 1,500m final after Bethwell Birgen fell in the semi-finals. Abdalaati Iguider of Morocco prevailed in the race.
“The indoor track is all about tactics. I now want to fully focus on how I will defend my Olympic Games title in London,” said Jelimo.
Obiri, who declared her intentions for the Olympic Games 1,500m title held by Jebet Lagat, said: “The coaches told me to stay behind her and use my power and kick in the last 100m and it worked well.”
The 2010 World Indoor silver medallist Lalang and Choge blamed it on wrong tactics.
“I took to the front too early and relaxed on the home stretch with 50 metres to go,” said Lalang.
Choge said: “Our tactics backfired after we allowed a mentally strong Lagat to control the proceedings from behind.”
Kenya’s team manager Barnabas Korir noted that regional athletes need to work hard since the London Olympic Games won’t be a bed of roses.
“It won’t be an easy affair looking at the resources Ethiopia, US and Britain have put into their Olympic Games preparations,” said Korir.
“I believe Uganda and Kenya can produce a strong Olympic challenge. Choge, Lalang and Kipsiro might not have done well but they are aware of what to do ahead of London.”
In Cape Town, as Kenya gave another impressive performance, there were calls for the continental athletics body to introduce financial rewards to attract the cream of Africa’s athletes.
The 2012 World Cross Country bronze medallist Vincent Chepkok, who finished fourth in the men’s 12km race said: “We also need to reward our own handsomely and set standards similar to those in Europe.
"Making the World Cross Country a biennual event has given Africa an opportunity to build its own events. We now need to lure sponsors to these events through proper organisation.”
The 2010 World Cross Country junior silver medallist Clement Langat delivered the senior men’s 12km title, beating Medhin Teklemariam of Eritrea and Ethiopian Atsedu Tsegay respectively.
Cross country champion Joyce Chepkurui orchestrated a Kenyan sweep of the top four places in senior women’s 8km race.
Margaret Wangari, the 2010 World Cross Country champion Emily Chebet and the 2010 World cross junior bronze medallist Esther Chemtai completed the assault.
World Cross Country junior champion Faith Chepng’etich added another jewel to her collection leading Agnes Jebet and Nancy Chepkwemoi for a sweep in the women’s 6km race.
Japhet Korir lost his junior title to Ethiopian Muktar Idris Awel as Justine Cheruiyot won bronze with Cornelius Kangongo coming in fifth.
Kenya retained the team title with individual victories in senior men’s 12km, senior women’s 8km and junior women’s 6km race.
The junior men’s title fell to Ethiopia, but still retained the team title.
Despite retaining the junior women’s crown, the team title went to Ethiopia after Kenya’s Alice Aprot withdrew from the race.