As the new athletics season begins, hopes for impressive performances are high. Covid-19 pandemic ruined almost an entire 2020 season, denying Kenyan top guns opportunities to compete.
From Diamond Leagues to major marathons and to mother of all battles – the Olympic Games, races faced cancellations and postponements.
News of Covid-19 vaccines this year has renewed the hope for running opportunities and a stable season.
The Tokyo Olympic Games and World Under-20 will set stage for exhilarating athletics activities.
The Standard Sport looks into selected top athletes to watch in the 2021 season.
1. Eliud Kipchoge, 36
He is the world marathon record holder, having written the 2:01:39 mark at the Berlin Marathon in 2018.
In October 2019, he became the first man to run a marathon in under two hours at the INEOS 159 challenge. He set the mark at 1:59:40.
After that feat, he posted a disappointing show at the London Marathon on October 4, where he came in sixth.
Kipchoge, who was the obvious pre-race favourite, said after the devastating loss that he had suffered an ear blockage as he braced the cold, rainy conditions during the London race.
He runs two marathons per year and this year, he has set his eyes on the Olympic Games and one major race.
The Tokyo Olympic Games marathon is the only confirmed race and this will probably be where the world’s fastest man will bounce back after the London loss.
He has been training in Kaptagat during the December holiday period.
2. Brigid Kosgei, 26
She is the women marathon world record holder, a feat she acquired at the 2019 edition of Chicago marathon where she ran 2:14:04.
The athlete, who trains under former marathoner Erick Kimaiyo, has her sights on the Olympic Games.
The 2020 season denied her more marathon races save for London where she saved Kenyans blushes after Kipchoge failed to lead the tempo in men’s category.
She ended last season in top form after running a number of half marathons where she did not produce impressive shows.
Brigid has world champion Ruth Chepngetich to contend within 2021.
From her high altitude training base in Kapsait on the mountainous area of Elgeyo Marakwet and West Pokot counties, Brigid has been preparing for an enduring competition.
3. Peres Jepchirchir, 27
Her spectacular world record finishes make Jepchirchir one of the most outstanding athletes of 2020 and is touted as one of the athletes who will light up the 2021 season.
Jepchirchir, 27, smashed the women-only race world record in the half marathon in Prague earlier in September before bettering it a month later at the world half marathon championships in Gdynia, Poland.
She will also be starting off the season with the Ras al Khaimah half marathon on February 19.
She was visibly running out of gas at the world half marathon championships in Poland but managed to pull away from Melat Yisak Kejeta of Germany to take victory under favorable weather conditions in Gdynia.
4. Hellen Obiri, 31
As the world prepared to usher in 2021, the two-time 5000m world champion was ending a devastating 2020 season on a high.
Obiri bagged silver in 5000m at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games and World title in 2019, and with her imperious finishing kicks, the track star is eying stunning shows this season.
She chalked up victory at the Cursa dels Nassos in Barcelona in an evening race in Barcelona on December 31, proving that like 5000m and 10000m, she was also too good on the road.
Obiri clinched the 5000m title at the Monaco Diamond League before ending her stellar season with a sensational 3000m win in Doha.
5. Beatrice Chepkoech, 29
She holds the 8:44.32 3000m steeplechase world record. Chepkoech demonstrated her strength at the Kip Keino World Athletics Intercontinental Tour World, leading from the gun to win the steeplechase race in 9:29.05.
She will be seeking to dominate the Diamond Leagues and represent the country in the Tokyo Olympic Games.
The athlete has her compatriot Hyvin Kiyeng, 28, the 2015 world champion to contend with this season.
6. Faith Kipyegon
Kenya’s Olympic 1500 metres champion Faith Kipyegon is following the trend by moving to a less familiar distance in Doha.
Kipyegon, who has recently fallen marginally short of the world 1000 metres record on two occasions, will contest her first 800 metres in five years against a field that includes her compatriot Eunice Sum, the 2013 world champion.
7. Kibiwott Kandie, 24
Kandie, 24, was among athletes who stunningly shattered world records in 2020.
He is also kicking off the 2021 season by returning to the Ras al Khaimah in Al Marjan Island where he notched a win earlier last year in a fruitful season.
Also returning to the Ras al Khaimah is Kandie’s compatriot Stephen Kiprop, who won the 14th edition of the race in 2019 in a personal best of 58.42, sharing the course record with Bedan Karoki, who will also be taking part in the competition.
He is expected to continue the rivalry with Uganda’s Jacob Kiplimo who came in second at the grueling Valencia race on December 6, 2020.
8. Timothy Cheruiyot, 24
The 1500m star delivered his first world championship gold medal in Doha, Qatar in 2019 in a 3:29:26 finish.
He is among athletes expected to electrify the athletics realm this season.
With the postponement of the 2021 World Athletics Championships to 2022, Cheruiyot is expected to stamp authority at the rescheduled 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo set for July and August.
At the Kip Keino Classic, he delivered a magic win in his 1500m speciality despite struggling with a hamstring strain.
He had earlier in August clocked an impressive 3:28.45 to win the 1,500m in Monaco.
9. Geoffrey Kamworor, 28
He could not defend his world half marathon title in October last year after he sustained a head injury while training.
Later in December, Kibiwott Kandie stunningly broke his one-year-old world record in Valencia.
The 2021 season will be the moment for a comeback. Late last month, Kamworor who trains with Kipchoge, the world record holder, said he had recovered and had started training in preparation for the season.
10. Conseslus Kipruto, 26
He will be seeking to defend his 3000m steeplechase Olympic title this year.
Kipruto remains Kenya’s top gun in the event. He could not gauge himself last season after he contracted Covid-19, and could not travel to Monaco for the first Diamond League meeting.
Kipruto is among Kenya’s decorated 3000m steeplechase stars, having taken over the mantle from multiple world champion Ezekiel Kemboi.
11. David Rudisha, 33
With Ferguson Rotich and Wycliffe Kinyamal’s stars rising in his long absence from 800m, Rudisha – the world record holder in the event has been missed by fans.
He has already stormed to two Olympic titles in 2012 and 2016.
Rudisha had announced in 2019 that he was hoping to write another Olympic history in Tokyo.
His career has been dogged by a string of injuries, one from a road crash and another one at home.
In May last year, he underwent a surgical operation at an Eldoret hospital after he sustained an ankle injury at his home in Narok.
12. Rhonex Kipruto, 21
He has shown that he is a force to reckon with both on the track and on the road.
The Iten-based athlete is the world record holder in 10km and the world U20 10,000m champion. He broke the record at the Valencia Ibercaja in 26:24 in Spain.
He is the Kenyan man touted to break the 10,000m Olympic jinx. Naftali Temu was the last Kenyan man to win 10,000m during the 1968 Olympics.
13. Joyciline Jepkosgei, 27
She holds the 29:43 10km world record which was threatened last week by Hellen Obiri.
Her half marathon world record was smashed by Ethiopia’s Ababel Yeshaneh on February 21, 2020 at the Ras Al Khaimah Half Marathon in the United Arab Emirates.