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Wlodarczyk returns and rivalries are renewed in Nairobi

Wlodarczyk returns and rivalries are renewed in Nairobi

Anita Wlodarczyk at the Kip Keino Classic (© Giancarlo Colombo)

The Kip Keino Classic returns to Nairobi on Saturday (13) and the fourth edition of the World Athletics Continental Tour Gold meeting looks set to be bigger and more thrilling than ever before.

Anita Wlodarczyk, the greatest hammer thrower of all time, will make her long-awaited comeback in the city where she won last year with an African all-comers' record of 78.06m. Meanwhile home favourite Mary Moraa seeks a strong start to her 800m campaign and Commonwealth champion Muzala Samukonga will look to build upon his recent stunning form in the 400m. 

Poland’s three-time Olympic and four-time world champion Wlodarczyk is back to defend her hammer title in her first competition since last June. The world record-holder injured herself last year in an altercation with a criminal and was forced to miss the bulk of the outdoor season.

World bronze medallist Janee' Kassanavoid of the US and Romania’s European champion Bianca Ghelber will offer competition to the reigning Olympic champion.

Another Polish Olympic hammer champion, Wojciech Nowicki, leads the men's field. The world silver medallist is also back to defend his title and will have great competition from Ukraine’s Mykhaylo Kokhan, the European U23 champion who won the world U18 title in Nairobi in 2017, and Ethan Katzberg of Canada, the Commonwealth silver medallist.

Zambia's Muzala Samukonga will light up the men's 400m. The Commonwealth Games and African champion set a world-leading national record of 43.91 in Botswana last month. Kenya's Emmanuel Korir will be aiming to lower the national record of 44.18. 

Muzala Samukonga on his way to a 43.91 400m in Gaborone (© Roger Sedres)

Five-time world 100m champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce was a late withdrawal from the women's 100m, but it should still be a highly competitive race between USA's 24-year-old Twanisha Terry, the world 4x100m champion and winner of last month's Continental Tour Gold meeting in Botswana; USA’s Olympic 4x100m silver medallist Teahna Daniels; New Zealand's two-time Oceania champion Zoe Hobbs; Egypt’s Bassant Hemida, who was second behind Fraser-Pryce at the Kip Keino Classic last year and second behind Terry in Botswana; 23-year-old Rani Rosius from Belgium and 22-year-old Esther Mbagari of Kenya.

Ferdinand Omanyala has already promised to run an African record in the men’s 100m as he looks to improve his own 9.77 from Nairobi in 2021. Having clocked 14.89 for 150m in Atlanta last weekend – the fastest time by an African athlete over the distance – and as he remains unbeaten this year in the 100m, an event in which he ran a wind-assisted 9.78 (2.3m/s) to win in Botswana, fans should take his words seriously.

However, he will face formidable opponents that include USA’s Olympic and world 200m silver medallist Kenny Bednarek, who finished third at the Botswana Golden Grand Prix behind Omanyala and Botswana's rising talent Letsile Tebogo. Also in the mix are USA's world 100m silver medallist Marvin Bracy-Williams and Canada's Jerome Blake, who was part of the Canadian men's 4x100m team that won the world title.

Another Canadian from that world title-winning 4x100m team, Aaron Brown, features in the men's 200m event as he takes on Israel’s Blessing Akwasi Afrifah, who won a thrilling head-to-head against Tebogo at last year’s World U20 Championships, plus Botswana's Isaac Makwala, Liberia’s Joseph Fahnbulleh, Australia's Jake Doran and USA's Kyree King.

The women's 200m will feature USA's Sha'Carri Richardson, who ran a world-leading 10.76 for the 100m at the recent Diamond League meeting in Doha. Alexandra Burghardt, who was part of the German 4x100m team that won the European title last year, and Kyra Jefferson, the Pan American champion and three-time NACAC and NCAA champion, will be there to ensure it won't be an easy race for Richardson.

As Kenya is well known for its middle and long distance track runners, most of the events in this category are loaded with local talents and a few other stars from Ethiopia, Uganda and the rest of the region.

Emmanuel Wanyonyi returns to defend his 800m title against a strong field that includes Wycliffe Kinyamal, who finished second at the Doha Diamond League meeting last Friday. The 2021 world U20 champion helped Kenya's 4x2km mixed relay team to win gold at the World Cross Country Championships in Bathurst in February, racing a distance that is more than double his specialism.

The 18-year-old is yet to open his track season and it will be interesting to see how he will perform against the competitive field assembled for the event on Saturday. His rivals include 2019 world 1500m champion Timothy Cheruiyot, who will be stepping down to the 800m after participating in the 3000m in Doha. Another one to watch out for is Olympic silver medallist Ferguson Rotich.

Kenya's Moraa has already got the World Championships qualification time for the 400m after she won the last Continental Tour Gold event in a national record of 50.44. Her focus will shift to her specialist event, the 800m, at the Kip Keino Classic.

The world bronze medallist from Oregon will face formidable competition from the defending champion Prudence Sekgodiso of South Africa, who ran a personal best of 1:58.41 to win the race last year, as well as Ethiopia's Habitam Alemu, who has a PB of 1:56.71, and Netsanet Desta, the African silver medallist.

Mary Moraa on her way to a 400m win in Botswana (© Roger Sedres)

Kenya's 3000m steeplechase world record-holder Beatrice Chepkoech will lead a quality field that consists mostly of the local stars in the event. Faith Cherotich, the world U20 champion who was third in Doha, and Jackline Chepkoech, the Commonwealth Games champion who finished seventh in Doha, will be on the starting line. After pacing a fast race up to the last 1000m in Doha, Doris Lengole Cherop will get the opportunity to finish the race this time around.

After winning the 3000m steeplechase in Doha, Winfred Yavi of Bahrain will run in the women's 1500m in Nairobi. Winnie Chebet, Ednah Chebitok and Ethiopia's Ksanet Alem are some of her rivals in the event.

In the men’s 1500m Adel Mechaal of Spain will bring competition to Kenyans on their home soil and will face Abel Kipsang, who recently ran 1:44.6 for 800m at altitude in Botswana, plus Kamar Etiang and Reynold Kipkorir.

The men's 3000m steeplechase comprises a new generation of Kenyan runners seeking to reclaim the nation’s glory in the event, led by Amos Serem, the 2021 world U20 champion, and more experienced athletes such as Abraham Kibiwott and Benjamin Kigen.

World champion Anderson Peters of Grenada will be the man to watch in the men's javelin. After failing to register a result in Doha, 2015 world champion Julius Yego will be hoping to make a mark on home ground.

There is a heavy presence of Ukrainian athletes in the women’s high jump, led by two-time world silver medallist and world indoor champion Yaroslava Mahuchikh. She is joined by Yuliia Levchenko, Maryna Kovtunova and Kateryna Tabashnyk.

- By Justin Lagat for World Athletics