Year in Review: Omanyala lights up Kenya, U20 lives up to expectations but death took away Tirop

NAIROBI, Kenya, Dec 31- With all sporting activities returning back to normal after a dull 2020 that was hit with the COVID-19 pandemic, Kenya’s most successful sport Athletics lived up to its expectations in 2021, from hosting the World Athletics Under-20 Championships, making a name in the men’s 100m to clinching golds at the Tokyo Olympics.

Albeit much was fruitful, once again the ugly face of doping did not stay away from Kenya as some elite athletes were suspended for violating the World Anti-Doping Agency rules and also Kenya lost its upcoming long-distance talent, Agnes Tirop who was murdered by her lover.

But that said, Nairobi was the center of attraction far across the world for athletics lovers after staging two successful major events at the Moi International Sports Center Kasarani; the World Athletics Under-20 Championships and the Kip Keino Classic Continental Tour.

Athletes from various countries in Nairobi World Athletics Under-20 Championships.

A total of 116 nations sent their representatives to compete in the biannual event and host country Kenya did not disappoint as it ruled the world with a total of 16 medals; 8 Gold, 1 Silver and 7 Bronze.

Kenya wrote history by winning the unexpected events like the 10,000m Walk race thanks to Heristone Wanyonyi while Emmanuel Wanyonyi smashed the men’s 800m course record.

Heristone Wanyonyi celebrates after winning gold in the 10,000m walk at teh World Under-20 Championships in Nairobi. PHOTO/Raymond Makhaya

While retaining most of the gold medals it won in the last edition in Tampere, Finland the athletics powerhouse nation also reclaimed the women’s 1500m but surrendered the women’s 5000m title to Ethiopia. 

As the norm, Kenya produced future world beaters that will take over from the senior athletes.

-Kip Keino Classic-

Former Olympic champion Justin Gatlin and Kenya’s sprint sensation Ferdinand Omanyala

Having tested the ground in the inaugural edition in 2020, the Kip Keino Continental Tour stamped its authority, attracting world superstars like 2004 Olympic Champion and four-time World Champion Justin Gatlin of the USA as well as fastest man this season Trayvon Bromell.

The race went into record as the fastest time set in 2021 after Bromell winning in a World Leading time of 9.76 Sec, narrowly beating homeboy Ferdinand Omanyala who clocked 9.77 to smash the African Record that was held by South African Simbine.

The Kip Keino Classic was also graced by the newly crowned Hammer thrower Olympic Champion Wojciech Nowicki of Poland and his compatriot Pawel Fajdek who won bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics.

Other Olympic gold medallist from Tokyo who competed in the Kenyan soil were 3000m steeplechase both men (Soufiane El Bakkali of Morocco) and women (Peruth Chemutai of Uganda).

-Tokyo Olympics: Kenya surrenders steeplechase title for the first time-

Kenya’d Benjamin Kigen, clearing the barrier. Photo/COURTESY

Some may say it was expected while others did not see it coming as Kenya for the first time since competing in the Olympics lost the men’s 3000m steeplechase title that was won by Moroccan El Bakkali as Kenya settled for bronze courtesy of Benjamin Kigen.

The results raised concerns back in Kenya with athletics Kenya being criticized for not preparing the team well after defending champion Conseslus Kipruto failed to finish the trials.

According to Kigen, that loss was a wake-up call for the country’s longstanding prowess over the distance emphasizing on the need to change tact and invest on resources.

-Faithful Kipyegon and unstoppable Kipchoge-

Faith Kipyegon

With Kenyans waiting long for the gold medal from Tokyo, Emmanuel Korir was the man to deliver Kenya’s first gold when he led compatriot Ferguson Rotich to a 1-2 finish, and retain the title for Kenya that was won by world record holder David Rudisha and open the gold hunt.

Faith Kipyegon did not disappoint either, having a superb form, and coming from maternity, she defeated favourite Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands to successfully retain the gold in an Olympic Record of 3:53.11. Sifan finished third as Briton Laura Muir settled for silver.

Kipyegon went on to finish the season he had started by winning the Diamond League on a high winning the Kip Keino Classic at home and clinching the 2021 Diamond League trophy.

-Hail Kipchoge and Jepchirchir-

Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge won the men’s marathon on Sunday

Another year, another opportunity for Eliud Kipchoge to underline his status as an all-time marathon great.

The Kenyan distance runner contested two marathons in 2021, producing a short-lived world lead in one, and securing a second successive Olympic title in the other.

At the NN Mission Marathon event in Enschede in April, he beat a high-quality field by more than two minutes in 2:04:30, a time which led the 2021 world list for a month.

But his run in Sapporo at the Olympic Games was even more remarkable. Competing against 105 of the world’s best distance runners, Kipchoge broke away in the 31st kilometre and went on to win in 2:08:38, six seconds quicker than his Rio victory and the fifth-fastest run in Olympic history.

His winning margin of 1:20 was the biggest in an Olympic men’s marathon since Frank Shorter’s win in 1972.

Abdi Nageeye of the Netherlands took silver (2:09:58) and Belgium’s Bashir Abdi earned bronze (2:10:00).

-City Marathons-

Titus Ekiru crosses the finish line to win a previous race

Most of the year’s big international marathons were held in the months that followed the Olympics. Berlin (Guye Adola, 2:05:45) and London (Sisay Lemma, 2:04:01) produced swift winning times, as is often the case, but the two main Dutch marathons placed higher on the 2021 world list.

Ethiopia’s Tamirat Tola set a course record of 2:03:39 to win in Amsterdam, while Abdi broke the European record with 2:03:36 to win in Rotterdam one week later.

Yet neither winner could quite manage to bump Titus Ekiru off the top of the world list. The Kenyan maintained his impressive marathon record in 2021, winning in Milan in a world-leading 2:02:57 in May, and then taking top honours in Abu Dhabi in November in 2:06:13. Of the eight marathons he has finished, Ekiru has now won seven of them.

Other big city winners included Seifu Tura in Chicago (2:06:12), Benson Kipruto in Boston (2:09:51), Albert Korir in New York City (2:08:22) and Lawrence Cherono in Valencia (2:05:11).

The marathons in Valencia, Milan and Amsterdam produced remarkable depth as the top 11 athletes in all of them finished inside 2:07:00.

That depth was reflected in the world lists as a whole with record numbers of men running inside 2:05 (23), 2:06 (42) and 2:07 (76).


Peres Jepchirchir celebrates after winning the Olympic Marathon Gold Medal.

This year is a great example of why quality of victories are far more significant than fast times.

Jepchirchir, for example, is 24th on the season list, yet few would argue against her being considered the world’s No.1 marathon runner in 2021.

Having this year shifted her focus from the half marathon to the full marathon, Jepchirchir won the Olympic title in 2:27:20, then three months later won the New York City Marathon – one of seven Elite Platinum Label road races with international elite fields in 2021 – in a season’s best of 2:22:39.

Kenya’s Joyciline Jepkosgei won the women’s race at the 2021 London Marathon

Outside of the Olympic Games, the London Marathon was perhaps the most significant race of the year over the classic distance. Joyciline Jepkosgei won in a world-leading 2:17:43 to move to seventh on the world all-time list with Degitu Azimeraw taking second place in 2:17:58.

The times achieved by Ashete Bekere (2:18:18), Brigid Kosgei (2:18:40) and Lonah Chemtai Salpeter (2:18:54) are the fastest ever marks set when finishing third, fourth and fifth in any marathon.

Two weeks later in Amsterdam, Angela Tanui jumped to second on the world list with her course record victory of 2:17:57. Valencia winner Nancy Jelagat (2:19:31) and Milan champion Hiwot Gebrekidan (2:19:35) were the other sub-2:20 performers of the season.

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic forcing the postponement of several road races, events such as the London and Boston marathons were moved to later in the year.

Indeed, six of the Elite Platinum Label races – five of them also forming part of the World Marathon Majors series – were held within a six-week period between September and November.

Other notable winners of those races included Gotytom Gebreslase in Berlin (2:20:09), Ruth Chepngetich in Chicago (2:22:31) and Diana Kipyokei in Boston (2:24:45).

But despite the outstanding depth in Valencia and London, the season as a whole couldn’t beat the record depth achieved in 2019.

-Omanyala put Kenya in the global headlines-

Ferdinand Omanyala. PHOTO/Reuters

When this season started, Ferdinand Omurwa Omanyala did not know if he will be selected to compete at the Tokyo Olympics to make his dream come true despite having broken the national record in Nigeria because he was making a comeback after serving doping ban.

However, when he was handed the opportunity to attend the Kenyan Tokyo Olympics trials, Omanyala did not disappoint as he won the race in 10.02 Sec to hit the Olympic mark of 10.5 Sec. Also qualifying was Mark Otieno who timed 10.05.

That was the beginning of good things to happen for the 25-year-old Bachelor of Science in Chemistry student at the University of Nairobi, going on to do the impossible at the Tokyo Olympics by storming the semi-finals a first for Kenya, smashing the national record as he set a 10.00 Sec after finishing third in his Heat.

He set the big record at the Kip Keino Classic, the African Record on home soil defeating his idol Gatlin to accomplish his mission having floored two-time Olympic and two-time world champion Yohan Blake of Jamaica in the Tokyo Olympic Games.

Goodies followed him thereafter as every corporate in Kenya wanted a piece of him and he attracted the National Police Service where he was employed as the Inspector before he signed a deal with Adidas.

-Mark Otieno Doping-

Sprinter Mark Otieno PHOTO/Timothy Olobulu

Once again, Kenya could not end a year without doping accusations as sprinter Mark Otieno became the biggest casualty, having been suspended from the Tokyo Olympics after testing positive for a banned substance in an out-of-competition test at the Tokyo Olympic Games.

There was an adverse analytical finding on his sample with an anabolic androgenic steroid detected, the news breaking just hours before starting out in the heats of the 100m at the Games.

However, Kenyan sprinter Mark Otieno reiterated that he had not doped following Adverse Analytical Test on his urine sample.

-Tirop Murder send shockwaves in athletics world-

Tirop was found dead at her home in western Kenya last month

Former World Cross Country Champion and Team Kenya Olympian Agnes Tirop was found dead in her house in Iten with stab wounds.

It is alleged that Tirop was murdered by her husband with whom they had problems with for a long time and her death comes only 10 days before she celebrates her 26th birthday.

Tirop was just starting her pre-season training after a month’s rest from the Tokyo Olympic Games where she finished fourth in the 5,000m won by Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands while Kenya’s Hellen Obiri took silver as Gudaf Tsegay of Ethiopia settled for bronze.

The death led to athletes especially female demonstrating against women domestic violence, catching the attention of the Ministry of Sports and Athletics Kenya who took action by holding nationwide seminars to sensitize the athletes and also get to hear their problems.

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