Ethiopia vs Kenya duel centre stage as continent’s stars chase glory

April 29th, 2008 | by addis portal |

It is difficult to look beyond East Africa for winners of the 5,000 and 10,000 metres races as the 16th Africa Athletics Championships start today at the Addis Ababa Stadium.

(Left to right): Ethiopia’s Belaynesh Fekadu, Meselech Melkamu and Stiashu Hutra work out at the Addis Ababa Stadium ahead of the Africa Athletics Championships that start Wednesday in the Ethiopian capital. Photo/MOHAMMED AMIN

But, no doubt, it is the duel between Kenya and Ethiopia that will excite the fans most.

The home crowd will have its eyes on Olympic and world 5,000m champion Meseret Defar as she seeks the defence of her 5,000m African title.

Compatriot Meselech Melkamu, who is the world indoor 3,000m silver medallist and two-time world cross country bronze medallist, will also be in the mix.

Kenya will field a weakened team led by national cross country champion Grace Momanyi and could disrupt the home nation’s plan for a clean sweep.

Two-way battle

A thrilling two-way battle should ensue in the men’s 5,000m between long distance heavyweights Ethiopia and Kenya. Tariku Bekele finally won his first senior global title when winning 3,000m gold in Valencia this year, while compatriot Abraham Cherkose alleviated himself to bronze in the same event.

Kenya’s fightback will be led by international circuit specialist Isaac Songok who despite his prominence in the international circuit has yet to achieve major championship triumphs.

All Africa Games silver medallist Kiprono Menjo will also hope to go one better and repeat his victory over Tariku in July last year.

The men’s 10,000m should be a walk in the park for one-time Olympic, three-time world 10,000m champion, and world record holder Kenenisa Bekele in his title defence.

Bekele has not competed domestically since winning the national 5,000m in May, 2004, and will make a long overdue appearance at the Addis Ababa stadium.

Unlike other major championship races, Bekele will not be chased by compatriot Sileshi Sihine who finished second behind his compatriot in each of the last three major championship finals.

Bekele-chasing

Sihine’s absence has paved the way for world junior 10,000m champion Ibrahim Jeylan and national champion Eshetu Wondimu to do the Bekele-chasing.

The women’s 10,000m is also expected to be an Ethiopian affair. Double world champion Tirunesh Dibaba has fully recovered from the stomach pains that blighted her performances earlier this year.

But she faces the challenge of All-African Games champion Mestawet Tufa, who will be desperate to make up for a dropping out in the final at the 2007 World Championships in Osaka.

Grace Momanyi could double in the 10,000m for the Kenyan team which also had Lucy Kabuu in its ranks.

In the men’s 3,000m steeplechase, Willy Komen will return to continental action this year as he hopes to make up for the disappointment of failing to reach the world championships last year. His main challenge is expected to come from compatriots Richard Mateelong, world championships bronze medallist, former world junior champion Michael Kipyego as Kenya seek a clean sweep of the medals.

A few years ago, that would have been taken for granted.

But in the last two years, archrivals Ethiopia have slowly started to disrupt some of Kenya’s medal ambitions.

A possible distraction to Kenya’s podium clean sweep could come in the shape of Ethiopia’s national champion Nahom Mesfin.

The 19-year old, who is in his final junior year, won bronze at the All-African Games and is the national champion and junior record holder.

World junior record

Kenya’s dominance also extends in the women’s 3,000m steeplechase.

Last year, Ruth Bisibori made easy work out of beating Ethiopian Mekdes Bekele at the All-African Games, but even failed to make it to Kenya’s team for Osaka.

Instead, she smashed the world junior record over the event later in the year and earned the 2007 IAAF Newcomer of the Year.

However, Bisibori was handily beaten at the Kenyan national trials by Lydia Rotich, who is included in the squad, while former African junior champion Mercy Njoroge should help Kenya’s hopes of a clean sweep.

Rivals Ethiopia will have Mekdes Bekele leading the battle over the barriers.

The 25-year old, who is an All-African Games silver medallist and two-time national champion, will be joined by Zemzem Ahmed and Sofia Assefa.

Many surprises

The men’s 800m field has everything – youth, experience, revenge, comebacks, and hopefully many surprises. The youth is provided by Sudan’s world indoor champion Abubaker Khamis Kaki who is the toast of his country and the world of middle distance running.

Experience and revenge is provided by South Africa’s Olympic 800m silver medallist Mbulaeni Mulaudzi who is keen to avenge his defeat to Kaki in Valencia. He is the most experienced runner in the top field having starting international athletics in 2001.

The surprise component of this event could well come from Kenya’s reigning world and African junior champion David Luketa Rudisha who is one of the most fluid 800m operators in the continent.

Rudisha, who deliberately missed the All-African Games and the world championships last year, has been saving himself for the 2008 season and could surprise the field. (Addis2008)

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