Captain Timothy Kiptoo

The squad of 16 athletes and seven officials is among the early teams to arrive here. World cross bronze medallist Vincent Chepkok said he wants to focus on helping the team to retain the title and also secure himself an individual medal, a gold if possible.

“We are a team and we run as a team. I want to help this team then if it falls on me why not pick the gold itself,” said Chepkok.

Africa junior cross-country 8km champion Japhet Korir is keen to defend his crown and also lead his colleagues to a team title.

“I am here to defend the title, otherwise I would not have come. It will not be easy because we have Ethiopia, Eritrea and Moroccans here, but I have to believe in myself. “I’m the best and will come under attack on Sunday being the champion. However, I can take it in my stride,” said Korir.

The team had to endure a six-hour connection in Johannesburg, but remained upbeat, it would not hamper their plans to rule the roost here for the second year running.

Last year visa hitch denied several countries coming to South Africa, but that has since been rectified.

The organisers confirmed that 21 countries had made their entry in time with hosts South Africa, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Morocco sending full squad of 24 athletes.

Kenya and Uganda, however, have sent only 16 runners each in the four-race category – junior women 6km, junior men 8km, 8km senior women and 12km senior men.

Captain Timothy Kiptoo said expectations are high and he hopes his team will deliver. Kiptoo, who was 23rd in last year’s national cross-country missed out on both the world and Africa Cross County Championships.

However, the Kenya Prisons warder returned in 2012 with a bang claiming second spot after Japan-based Bedan Koroki, who opted out of the team to Cape Town.

“The pressure is on me to do well and make sure I win the title won by John Mwangangi last year. It will be tough, but my teammates are also strong like we have Chepkok and Clement Langat, world junior men silver medalist in 2010. It is my first time at this event and I want to leave a mark.”

Another pillar in the team is Faith Chepng’etich, the World Junior Cross Country Champion, who is making her debut in the event.

“Last year it was a bit easy because Ethiopians were not here. But I beat them in Spain and hope to do the same here. It is going to be tough to everyone though,” she said.

The team, which has been training in hot temperatures in Ngong, will have to brave strong winds and cold temperatures dropping to below 15 degrees on Sunday. But they all look ready to face it.

Head coach Samson Katum, was cautious on the team prospects until after touring the course on Saturday.

“Right now the team is fatigued, they will be in great shape tomorrow and during the competition. For now all we want is concentration and focus,” he said.

The athletics Kenya officials accompanying the team are vice chairman Jack Tuwei, secretary general David Okeyo and treasurer Joseph Kinyua.

By CHRIS MUSUMBA in JOHANNESBURG, SA – The Standard

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