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Kenya begins medal hunt at Rio Olympics

After the failure of other sports disciplines to excel, it now comes down to Kenya’s traditional standard-bearers to step forward as the medal hunt begins in earnest with the start of the track and field programme on Friday at the Olympic Stadium.

But even as the hour of reckoning drew closer, Kenya’s head coach Julius Kirwa was noncommittal on his charges’ prospects.

He simply wouldn’t be drawn into stating the numbers or the medals that Team Kenya would seek.

NO PROBLEMS

“We have not had any problems since arriving here. All the little issues of concern to the athletes have been ironed out and they are now ready to compete,” Kirwa said in an interview on Wednesday.

Even without stating the obvious, there is no denying that Kirwa and his athletes are hatching a major plot.

Then there is the matter of doping that has dogged the team all the way to Rio. Kirwa and his team know only good performance will deflect public attention from the issue.

The women’s 10,000m final, which starts at 5:10pm, will present Kenya with their first opportunity of entering the medal standings as the Olympics “proper” begin for the team.

Yet, there is no guarantee of top honours. Kenya is still without a gold medal from the seven previous editions of the Olympics in which the 25-lap race has been held.

Reigning world champion over the distance Vivian Cheruiyot, Africa 10,000m champion Alice Aprot and new entrant Betsy Saina will lead Kenya’s charge.

Cheruiyot also know as the Pocket Rocket, who announced her return from maternity leave last year with a commanding performance to be crowned world champion in Beijing will spearhead the Kenyan onslaught as she looks to improve on the bronze medal she won at the London Games four years ago.

TACTICAL EXPERIENCE

Cheruiyot has been described as an athlete with the tactical experience and closing speed to rival the best at this level.

Aprot, who won the 5,000m bronze at the 2010 World U-20 Championships, is the latest phenomenon in the team while the US-based Saina is viewed as a rank outsider.

Kenya’s arch-rivals Ethiopia will count on two-time defending champion Tirunesh Dibaba, world 5,000m champion Almaz Ayana and world 10,000m silver medallist Gelete Burka.

The men’s 10,000m walk race final is also on today from 8.30pm. Kenya will be represented by Samuel Gathimba and Simon Wachira.

Kenya has never produced a walk race medallist at the Olympics but being among the first Kenyan athletes to arrive in Rio, the two walkers have had sufficient time to train and acclimatise.