African athletics championships open in Kenya
Nairobi: More than 700 African athletes meet in the Kenyan capital this week for a five-day continental championships being held under tight security after deadly bombings in neighbouring Uganda.
Continental heavywights Kenya and Ethiopia are fielding their top runners including world champions Linet Masai and Vivian Cheruiyot and double Olympic champion Tirunesh Dibaba, who is making a comeback after a long lay-off.
The east African nation, hosting the African Athletics Championships for the first time, will field a full strength of 144 athletes, that includes sprinters and field event competitors, who have in the past felt marginalised and neglected due to lack of investments by Athletics Kenya (AK).
New head coach Stephen Mwaniki believes the participation of the sprinters and field events will give the team an all-round performance and a force to be reckoned with.
"These athletes have self belief. They had done enough to warrant entry into the team and we are helping them unlock that potential and claim their place come the championship," Mwaniki told reporters earlier this week.
The championships will be held in a newly-refubished Nyayo National Stadium in central Nairobi which has seen a fast-paced painting work, track-laying and lighting as well as mounting an electronic timing board.
Security has also been heightened in the city following the July 11 bomb blasts in Kampala by Somalia`s Al-Qaeda-linked Shebab rebels which left 76 people dead.
Kenya police announced the setting up of a special unit to protect the athletes during training, competition and at their hotels.
As this is a non-Olympic or World championships year, most of the athletes will use the championship to prepare for the up-coming Commonwealth Games in New Delhi, India in October.
Nigeria is without its top male sprinter, Olusoji Fasuba, but the West African nation however is expected to dominate the sprints.
Dibaba`s absence at last summer`s World championships in Berlin opened the doors for Masai and Cheruiyot to give Kenya a distance double.
Cheruiyot, who warmed up for these championships when she returned a world leading time of 14:27.41 at the Paris Diamond League last week, said she is relishing the challenge of racing the Ethiopians again.