Though the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on the usually glitzy sports calendar worldwide, Kenya hopes to stage high octane games from August 17 to 22 in Nairobi at the World Under-20 Championships.
Withdrawals, caution and skepticism might have marred the build up to the championships, but the country is putting on the last preparations to welcome the global stars as the first African state to host the age group competition in the continent.
Africa and specifically Kenya might hardly have a leg to stand on when it comes to hosting global championships, but Sports Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed has nonetheless stood steadfast saying the experience the world stars will have in Nairobi will be unmatched.
“Kenya is ready for the World Under-20 Athletics Championships. Success of the championship is important as it will give us an advantage by opening more opportunities for us to host major events in future,” Mohamed told reporters in Nairobi.
However, for the second time in as many events, Britain will give the championships in Nairobi a bye because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Kenya has so far recorded 186,959 coronavirus cases with over 3,705 deaths and 174,522 recoveries as of Wednesday.
Michael Rabar, chief executive of the committee for the 2020 IAAF World U-20 Championships’ local organising committee, said the withdrawals will not water down the high spirit they have for the championships and hopes the over 130 countries that are still in contention will give the event a global spectrum.
“We anticipate a high turnout, which is very encouraging because we all have the challenge of COVID-19. However, athletes are keen to come and seize the chance to win medals and break records,” Rabar said Wednesday in Nairobi.
Kenya’s team will be under pressure as always, though this time the push might hit the crescendo being the defending champion having ruled the roost at the 2018 edition in Tampere, Finland where they finished top of the leaderboard by clinching 11 medals – six gold, four silver and a bronze.
Kenya has put in place the necessary COVID-19 measures as guided by the World Athletics and Ministry of Health, which will be duly followed.
Barnabas Korir, Athletics Kenya executive committee member, said the country has selected the best talent to battle for the bragging rights before their own fans.
However, he warned that the team is training in a bubble and there will be little interference or meeting with the public to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 to the team or the public.
“We expect Kenya to defend the title especially on home ground, though we realize that other teams may also come strong now that this is one of the few events available owing to the lockdown in most countries,” said Korir.
World Athletics president Sebastian Coe in 2018 during his tour of Nairobi lauded Kenyan government’s strong support for athletics.
“The U-20 championships showcase the future of our sport, so Kenya, with a young and enthusiastic population and such a rich history in athletics, is a perfect fit for us,” Coe said.
“We hope that these championships will further encourage the development of athletics in Kenya and all over Africa, which is such a vibrant part of our international federation.”
One of the leading prodigies that hope to storm to stardom in Nairobi will be national junior 5,000m champion Maurine Cherotich, who comes from the same village with Olympic 1,500m champion Faith Kipyegon in Keringet, Nakuru.
Cherotich, who clocked 15 minutes and 44.26 seconds during the Kenya trials, hopes to beat her personal best and stake claim to the gold.
“I am really happy to have made the team. My hope is to win the World U-20 title and make the country proud. I will train even harder since I don’t expect it to be easier during the World Championships. From there I have a chance to graduate to the senior ranks and take over from Vivian Cheruiyot, the Olympic champion,” said Cherotich.
With a full house of 46 athletes – 24 boys and 22 girls – ready to sweat blood to defend Kenya’s top position, it will have to take something extra special to pull the rag underneath their feet and dethrone them as the true super heroes of age competition in track and field.
Jack Tuwei, Athletics Kenya President, urged the athletes to focus on improving on their record posted in Finland three years ago.
“Global championships are usually not easy, we have to be at our very best to compete with the rest of the world. I have confidence this team will deliver the title at home,” Tuwei told the athletes when he visited them in camp in Nairobi.