Kwemoi determined to hunt down elusive men’s 10,000m Olympic gold for Kenya
Kenya has produced some of the finest distance runners at the Olympics since the east African nation first entered the event at Melbourne in 1956.
The country then waited 12 years to celebrate its first Olympic gold medal, when the legendary Naftali Temu won the men’s 10,000m final at the 1968 Games in Mexico City.
And that is good as it got for the most decorated African nation at the Olympics in that event, with Kenya still waiting for another men’s 10,000m gold medal over five decades later.
At Tokyo 2020, Kenya will be represented by Rodgers Kwemoi, Weldon Kirui Langat and late addition Rhonex Kipruto at Friday’s final on the opening day of the track and field program.
The trio will be seeking to end a 53-year wait for gold in the 24-lap race, but for once, the Kenyans will be going in as underdogs.
With two-time winner Mo Farah missing from the field, a new Olympic men’s 10,000m champion will be crowned in Tokyo for the first time since 2012.
Uganda’s world champion and record holder Joshua Cheptengei and his countryman Jacob Kiplimo stand out as the men to beat, with the Ethiopian duo of Selemon Barega and Yomif Kejelcha tipped ahead of the Kenyans.
But this has not dimmed the resolve of Kwemoi who will be seeking to fill the void vacated by Geoffrey Kamworor, who was forced to pull out with an ankle injury.
“I’m going for my first Olympics in Tokyo, I have gone to almost all races, World Championships, but this is the biggest sporting event. My preparations have been going well and I feel ready,” said Kwemoi in a recent interview.
He has nailed his flag to the mast this year by taking the scalps of his big rivals to underline his credentials for Tokyo 2020, including victories over world half-marathon record-holder Kibiwott Kandie and Kamworor in February.
The 24-year-old, who will be competing at his first Olympics, has been preparing for Tokyo 2020 inside Team Kenya’s bubble in Nairobi.”I have my personal target at the Olympics, and that is to be in the top three.
I got a bronze medal in the 2018 Commonwealth Games and after all the training, I’m confident I’m either going to lead or come second,” he enthused.
Vying for a medal in the city where Kenya won its first-ever Olympic medal in 1964 - a bronze in the 800m from Wilson Kiprugut - adds to the sense of occasion for Kwemoi and company. -Xinhua
Despite their rank outsider status, one of the country’s greats - two-time Olympic silver medalist Paul Tergat - has backed the youngsters to excel in Tokyo.
“We have the potential and ability to strike this 10,000m gold medal here through our young men, who are equally inspired and thirsty for something special,” said Tergat, who is now the president of the country’s Olympics Committee.
He above anyone else knows how cruel the men’s 10,000m can be, having lost gold twice in Atlanta 1996 and Sydney 2000 by wafer-thin margins to his biggest rival, Ethiopia’s Haile Gebrselassie.
No one expects the trio of Kwemoi, Kirui and Kipruto to get that close to the men’s 10,000m gold, but at Tokyo 2020, which has played host to some shocking upsets so far, nothing is impossible.