Five Key Head To Head Battles That Could Shape 2019 In Athletics

Jan 05 - by Mutwiri Mutuota for sportpesa news

SportPesa News examines potential face-offs involving Kenyan runners with the potential of dominating a season that will be crowned by the IAAF World Championships in September

Conseslus Kipruto beats American Evan Jager to the Rio 2016 Olympics men 3000m steeplechase title. PHOTO/File

  • The biannual track and field showpiece that runs from September 28 to October 6 at the refurbished Khalifa International Stadium will witness an exciting crop of rising stars take on established or returning icons in the quest to ascend to the middle step of the podium
  • Outside the Worlds, other competitions that will provide the battle ground for the cream of the sport to showcase their might include the 2019 IAAF Diamond League, the Abbot World Marathon Majors, the IAAF World Cross Country and the IAAF World Athletics Series permit meetings
  • With her reputation restored, Keitany reclaimed her mantle as the top female marathoner on the planet, with London providing the grand stage for another epic face-off against Cheruiyot, who will be defending the crown this time

NAIROBI, Kenya- The New Year highlighted by the 2019 IAAF World Championships in Athletics in Doha, Qatar in September promises titanic head-to-head battles in the race for supremacy and glory.

The biannual track and field showpiece that runs from September 28 to October 6 at the refurbished Khalifa International Stadium will witness an exciting crop of rising stars take on established or returning icons in the quest to ascend to the middle step of the podium.

Outside the Worlds, other competitions that will provide the battle ground for the cream of the sport to showcase their might include the 2019 IAAF Diamond League, the Abbot World Marathon Majors, the IAAF World Cross Country and the IAAF World Athletics Series permit meetings.

Here shines the spotlight on five contests involving Kenyan distance running stars that could shape the 2019 season.

1. Elijah Manangoi vs Timothy Cheruiyot- Men 1500m

In the men's 1500m last year, London 2017 silver winner Cheruiyot got the better of world champion Manangoi in five of their seven meetings but the latter took two of the three major crowns on offer to the pair: the Commonwealth and African titles. Cheruiyot meanwhile lifted the Diamond League trophy.

This season, the Rongai Athletics Club training partners are once again expected to dominate the three and a half lap race with the ultimate prize in Doha the biggest target.

Since breaking out with shock silver at the Beijing 2015 Worlds behind three-time champion, Asbel Kiprop, Manangoi has established himself as the ultimate championship runner but having played bridesmaid in their last four major finals, Cheruiyot will be quietly confident his time has come this year.

2. Beatrice Chepkoech vs Celliphine Chespol- Women 3000m steeplechase

Having scratched under the surface for three seasons, Chepkoech, 27, stormed to the front of the women’s steeplechase summit when she uncorked the 8:44.32 new world record at the Herculis Diamond League meeting in Monaco.

Chepkoech shaved the world steeplechase record by eight seconds, backed up by the third-quickest mark of all-time as she became the first woman to dip under 8:50 and 8:45 in the women’s water and barriers race.

Her barnstorming season saw her win seven out of eight steeplechase finals including the Continental Cup, African Championships and Diamond League having kicked off her season with silver at the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia.

As she guns for a first world title in Doha, Chepkoech faces internal competition from Chespol, the teenage phenomenon who enhanced her growing reputation in 2018.

Although she could not better her steeplechase lifetime best in 2018, Chespol improved her consistency and finished in the top two in all but two of her races. She took silver at the Commonwealth Games, finished second at the Kenyan Championships and at the senior African Championships.

She also successfully defended her title at the IAAF World U20 Championships Tampere 2018, taking 13 seconds off her own championship record with her winning time of 9:12.78.

3. Eliud Kipchoge vs Mo Farah- Men Marathon

Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge ended 2018 as the undisputed king of the men’s marathon and perhaps the Greatest of All Time when he set the astonishing 2:01:39 world record for his BMW Berlin Marathon hat trick.

The IAAF Male Athlete of the Year had earlier last April; come to within eight seconds of the previous standard of 2:02:57 ran by compatriot Dennis Kimetto at the same Berlin course when he scooped his third London Marathon crown.

In 2019, Kipchoge will once again put his greatness on the line with a possible London defence kicking off his season in April with British distance running icon, Mo Farah, lined-up as his biggest challenger.

The 35-year-old Somalia-born Briton decided to quit the track after the London 2017 worlds and focus solely on the marathon. It paid off -- he set a new European mark of 2:05:05 when winning the prestigious Chicago Marathon in October.

Farah, a quadruple Olympic champion having achieved the distance double of 5,000 metres and 10,000m in 2012 and 2016, said he was looking forward to pitting his wits against the traditionally strong field the race attracts including Kipchoge who is in no doubt, the runner to beat.

On November 20, Sir Mo became the first elite athlete to sign for the 2019 London Marathon, laying down the challenge for Kipchoge.

4. Conseslus Kipruto vs Soufiane El Bakkali- Men 3000m steeplechase

Since the exit of two-time Olympics and four-time world champion, Ezekiel Kemboi from the stage, Conseslus Kipruto is now firmly enthroned as the king of the men’s water and barriers race.

At Rio 2016 Olympics and London 2017 worlds, Kipruto single-handedly upheld his country’s majesty in an event that is known as ‘Kenya’s race’, digging deep to outclass stiff competition from American Evan Jager and Moroccan El Bakkali.

The latter has emerged as the biggest threat to Kenya’s dominance and in the final of the IAAF Diamond League last year, came so close to toppling Kipruto until the Kenyan pulled off a performance that will forever known as the one-shoed wonder of Zurich.

The Diamond Trophy holder, Kipruto had not enjoyed the dominance that he had done in recent years, finishing second in Eugene, third in Monaco and not taking a victory until Birmingham.

What he did in the final, however, made the rest of the season an irrelevance. Having accidentally kicked off his shoe early in the race Kipruto ran on regardless. As the final lap developed, it became clearer and clearer that the impossible was on the cards.

Hunting down El Bakkali on the home straight, Kipruto just edged the Moroccan on the line to pull off a most spectacular victory and one can only salivate at the prospect of a showdown between the pair in 2019.

5. Mary Keitany vs Vivian Cheruiyot- Women marathon

Last April, it looked as the end of an era in women marathon running had passed when Olympic 5000m champion, Cheruiyot stunned a field that included the runaway favourite Mary Keitany to record her biggest victory at the ultimate distance at only her third attempt.

Having taken off at world record speed alongside Ethiopian distance running great Tirunesh Dibaba, the suicidal pace cost the illustrious pair in the latter stages as Cheruiyot attacked from behind to take the victory in 2:18:31, the fourth fastest in history with Keitany forced down the finishing order to fifth in 2:24:27.

In November, the pair lined-up yet again at the New York Marathon, with the favourite mantle this time placed on the head of the 35 year-old rising star of female marathon running as opposed to her established countrywoman.

Perhaps it played to her hands that the spotlight was not on the 36 year-old and having learned painful lessons from London, Keitany timed her race to near perfection, hammering the field to charge to a fourth title at the Big Apple.

Running unchallenged for most of the second half of the tough race, Keitany flew through the boroughs of the American commercial capital, at one stage in a simply insane 2:16 pace before completing a fine evening of work in 2:22:48.

With her reputation restored, Keitany reclaimed her mantle as the top female marathoner on the planet, with London providing the grand stage for another epic face-off against Cheruiyot, who will be defending the crown this time.