Stephen Kiprotich is confident. He knows better than many what it takes to win gold, and in team Uganda he has seen a lot in training to show that glory beckons.
“Going by what I saw in training, I believe our time for gold has finally come,” Kiprotich said, adding that “the course is perfect. It’s a bit demanding… but very good for me.”
Standing in Uganda’s way at another IAAF World Cross Country Championships are the mighty Kenyans and Ethiopians.
A Kenyan or Ethiopian has won the top men’s individual title in 24 of the last 30 years.
The two nations’ record in the team event is even more intimidating – won all from 1986 to 2015. The story is increasingly similar in the women and junior events, with the Kenyans and Ethiopians dominating the past decade.
The story, according to Kiprotich will change at 2pm today when Uganda hosts the 42nd IAAF World Cross Country Championships Kampala 2017.
Uganda has come close to taking the individual men’s gold once before through Moses Kipsiro in 2009 and will not get a better chance to take charge than this year at their own Kololo Independence Grounds on March 26.
“We have a selected a very strong team. We we want to challenge the dominant sides…we will give them a run for their money,” promised Uganda athletics chief Domenic Otucet.
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The world cross country championship is considered one of the most difficult races to win, even more difficult than the Olympic Games, due to the tough course terrains.
Uganda becomes only the fourth African country to host the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) event in its 44th year history.
Morocco hosted twice in 1975 and 1998, South Africa in 1996 and Kenya in 2007. The competition was changed from an annual to a biennial event in 2011.
Kampala also marks the first time that senior women will race the distance of 10 kilometres.
There are many reasons why the Ugandans are confident. Three of them are Joshua Cheptegei, Stephen Kiprotich and Timothy Toroitich.
Stephen Kiprotich may be better known for his marathon exploits, but the distance running star has cross country in his blood.
“I am very happy for the world to come to my country. This race is very important to me.”
“In Uganda we have a very strong tradition in cross country running,” Kiprotich told the IAAF. “It has always been a key for any athlete preparing for track season. I have been competing in cross country from the start of my running career since I have been in school and it’s very easy to find good places to train for cross country in Uganda.”
Kiprotich has in the last five years shown the Kenyans and Ethiopians can be beaten at their own game. This he did in the marathon at the 2012 Olympic and 2013 world champions, all preceded by a sixth place showing at the 2011 World Cross championships in Spain.
At Uganda’s trials for this year’s event, he showed he can still match the change of pace from the marathon to the cross country, by finishing 5th.
Toroitich. IAAF PHOTOToroitich
All the stars, fresh from IAAF Cross Country Permit series November 2016 to February 2017, will travel to Kampala with a familiar name to look out for – Timothy Toroitich.
Before breaking off the circuit in November to prepare for Kampala 2017, Toroitich had swept to victory in the second leg race of the 2016-17 IAAF Cross Country Permit series.
Two weeks earlier, Toroitich finished second in the opening race of the winter’s IAAF Cross Country Permit series behind Bahrain’s Aweke Ayalew.
Toroitich finished fifth in the world cross country championships in 2013, and was eighth in the 10,000m at the IAAF World Championships Beijing 2015.
Joshua Cheptegei destroyed a strong field to win the senior men’s gold at the National Cross Country Championships in Kampala in January to show he will be the man to watch on Sunday.
Defending champion Phillip Kipyeko set the early pace at the Kampala trials, but when Cheptegei took charge in the second of five laps at Kololo, the battle for everyone else remained for second place.
Cheptegei is the 2014 world U20 10,000m champion and 2015 African junior cross-country gold medalist.
The 20-year-old doubled at last year’s Olympic Games, finishing an impressive sixth in the 10,000m and eighth in the 5000m on his debut, and will clearly be favourite to dethrone the Kenyans and Ethiopians.