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Kenyan athletes gear up for Africa Cross Country in Uganda

By John Kwoba

NAIROBI, Jan. 4 (Xinhua) -- Kenyan athletes are leaving nothing to chance ahead of Africa Cross Country Championships in Kampala, Uganda in March.

World Champion Japheth Korir, Mercy Cherono, Linet Masai and John Mwangangi have showed their mettle in European circuit winning races from Netherlands, to Italy and Spain.

But at home, Shanghai Marathon silver medallist Barnabas Sigei and Chemweno Lang'at said they will be putting in their hats in the ring for selection to the Kenya team.

This is after they successfully won the Administration Police Cross Country Championships on Saturday in Nairobi.

"Making the Kenyan team is one of the hardest tasks for any athlete in this country. However, we have just shown here that with good preparations, it is possible to make the team.

"I want to represent Kenya in the Africa cross country and then later focus on the marathon," said Sigei.

Sigei, who played the pacesetter role during last year's Rotterdam Marathon last, claimed the 12km senior men race in 36.01.2. The women 8km race was however won by another veteran runner Chemweno Lang'at in 28.04.5.

"Apart from the conducive weather I was in great shape, I did train throughout the Christmas holidays and want to be sharp this season and do well. The Africa Cross Country and the Commonwealth games are two events I look forward to running in," said Sigei.

Last year, Sigei proved himself as a master of road races abroad winning seven of the 15 races he participated in.

"I resolved to take part in this race today with no intention to win but to test my fitness and endurance and establish if I can be a wonderful performer in it, the result just startled me," he said.

In the women race, Lang'at beat Susan Cherotich, the reigning Columbus 25km road race champion. Cherotich had led the competition from start till to the 200 yards away from the tape when her knees gave in.

"My finishing kick was poor. Today's failure proved to me that I have a long way to go. I have so many dreams to realise in 2014 including making it in the Kenya's 5,000m squad for the Commonwealth games in Glasgow, Scotland and Africa Cross country championships in Kampala, Uganda in March."

Meanwhile, Confederation of African Athletics (CAA) expects a full house during the third Continental Cross Country Championships, which will be held in Kampala, Uganda in March.

With no World Championships in 2014, CAA Vice President David Okeyo, said Saturday African countries have a chance to compete at the top level in a discipline that has been dominated by talented athletes from the continent.

"There will be no World Cross in 2014, so the teams have a chance to field their best stars and make this event as big as the global one. After all, the World Cross Country Championships is dominated by Africa, plus U.S., Qatar and Bahrain," Okeyo said.

"There should be no excuse in Kampala in March. We had less than 10 countries in the inaugural event in 2011 in Cape Town, however, that number doubled to 23 in 2012 and now I want us to hit the 53 mark in Uganda," he added.

Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Uganda are the bigwigs in the discipline and will be looked upon to enter full teams in the event, which is just a stone throw away from their borders.

Okeyo said preliminary entries for the Africa cross-country championships must be sent before the Jan. 31 deadline.

"We have put a deadline of Jan. 31 to get all the preliminary entries to help us in the logistics and organisation arrangements. But we are going to review it in January during a special meeting in Yaounde with other CAA officials and see how the organisation is going on.

"Africa cross country might just be the future of this competition globally, because European countries are finding it hard to put their athletes on the winners' podium. It is a good event for the athletes to use for endurance after a long recess and we hope it will attract top runners," said Okeyo.

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