NAIROBI (Reuters) - Kenya’s athletes were set to fly out to London’s World Championships on Tuesday, their hopes for domination battered by the last-minute withdrawal of 800m Olympic champion David Rudisha with a quad injury.
Olympic 3,000m steeplechase runner Conseslus Kipruto was aiming to add a world title to the gold he won in Rio last year - and three-time world 1,500m champion Asbel Kiprop has vowed to retain his crown in the games that begin on Friday.
But Rudisha’s torn muscle robbed him of his chance to go for a third world title and gave his team a steeper climb up the medals table, which it topped in Beijing two years ago.
“We cannot be overconfident, even if we have such a good team,” head coach Julius Kirwa told Reuters on the eve of their departure.
He has good reasons to be cautious, given the political and legal distractions that have swirled around the team in recent months.
Its participation in London was cleared when officials finally filed paperwork showing it had met International Association of Athletics Federations’ anti-doping conditions, after missing two previous deadlines.
Kenya’s reputation for middle and long distance running has been tarnished by failed doping tests among its elite athletes, including former three-times Boston and Chicago marathon winner, Rita Jeptoo, and Jemimah Sumgong, the first Kenyan woman to win an Olympic marathon gold medal.
With the paperwork filed, attention has switched back to the 48-strong team.
“As Olympic champion, this is what I have been waiting for. I would wish to be crowned a world champion,” 22-year-old Kipruto told Reuters in the capital, Nairobi.
“That will fulfill my sentimental wish. Twice, I have been silver medalist - 2013 in Moscow and 2015 in Beijing. It would be great to be a world champion.”
He will be up against compatriot and two-time Olympic champion Ezekiel Kemboi, who delayed retirement after missing out in Brazil saying: “I must retire (from steeplechase) as a champion.”
The field will be even more competitive with American Olympic silver medalist Evan Jager in the mix, along with Moroccan Soufiane El Bakkali, who won Diamond League events in Stockholm and Rabat.
Kiprop was also in a confident mood. “I am winning my fourth title (in London). Trust me. I have been to six World Championships. I have won three times,” he said.
Rudisha would have been a particularly strong attraction at the London Stadium, where he stunned the world by winning the 800m in a world record 1:40.91 at the 2012 Olympics.
“I have accepted my fate with a very heavy heart and would like to wish the team well. They can still make it,” said the 28-year-old who announced his withdrawal on Monday.
Julius Yego, world javelin champion, is also in the team, as is London marathon winner Daniel Wanjiru, Paris Marathon champion Paul Lonyangata and Boston Marathon title holder Geoffrey Kirui.
Among the women in the 800m are former world champion Eunice Sum and Olympic bronze medalist Margaret Nyairera. Two-time world champion Edna Kiplagat will compete in the marathon, along with Hela Kiprop and Commonwealth Games winner Flomena Cheyech.
Reporting by George Obulutsa; Editing by Christian Radnedge and Andrew Heavens