Today, February 2nd, 2024, was a press conference ahead of the 3rd edition of the Sirikwa Classic World Cross Country Tour gold-level event, which will take place tomorrow at the Lobo Village in Eldoret.

No war drums were being beaten by the competitors at the pre-event press conference, with the two big names entering the senior races expressing their intention to give their best and use their experiences here to shape their journey to the World Cross Country Championships. But, looking at the start lists, especially in the men’s senior race, the battle for the podium places will be tough.

To add to the excitement, fans from different training bases around here will also have their runners to cheer. Although unofficial, the three counties of Nandi, Uasin Gishu, and Elgeyo Marakwet will have their own competition within the main competition.

Expected to toe the start line in the men’s senior race include Daniel Ebenyo, Nicholas Kimeli, Sebastian Kimaru Sawe, Robert Kiprop, Ronald Kwemoi, Cornelius Kemboi, Kibiwott Kandie, Benson Kiplangat, Jacob Krop, and Peter Mwaniki, to sample but a few names on the very long start list.

“It will be my first time running at the Sirikwa Classic, and it will help shape my preparations for the World Cross, where I hope to place on the podium,” Ebenyo said at the press conference. When you run well in cross country, the track will be easy,” he added.

In the women’s race, Lilian Kasait will lead a star-studded field that includes Vivian Cheruiyot, Grace Loibach, Emmaculate Anyango, Catherine Reline, Joy Cheptoiyek of Uganda, and Rose Chelimo of Bahrain, among others.

“Sirikwa helps a lot of athletes in their season build-up. For me, I will be testing my training and see what I need to correct before heading for the World Cross Country. It will serve as a buildup for the 10,000m event on track. I will be moving up from 5,000m at the Olympics. Tomorrow will be tough, but may the best athlete win,” Lilian Kasait, who didn’t want to talk much about the track season, preferring to focus on the cross country season for now, said these at the press conference.

Sirikwa Classic World Cross Country logo, from LOC

Despite the usual warm, sunny temperatures in February around Eldoret, there has been some rainfall in the last month, which will ensure the course is less dusty than last year. After feedback from runners in past editions, the course has also been made faster by removing a water barrier and the muddy section.

The panelists at the press conference were Ebenyo, the world 10,000m silver medalist; Hanne Maridal, Norway’s 10,000m national champion; Kasait, the world road running silver medalist; Barnaba Korir, the event director; Paul Mutwii, the director of the competition; and Abraham Mutai, the chair of the LOC.

Representing the international field, Norway’s 10,000m national champion Maridal said she was happy to be in Kenya to observe the culture and compare herself with the Kenyan runners. I checked the course yesterday, and I liked it. I will remain in Kenya after the event to train more in Iten.

“The weather back in Norway right now is not conducive because it’s winter, and I have heard a lot of praise from other Norwegian athletes about Kenya. Now that I got the chance to come here, I will utilize it well,” Maridal said.

The event director, Mr. Korir, is optimistic that it will be a great one.

“Looking at the entry and the athletes who have confirmed for the event, I’m proud that the event is growing, and my aim as the meet director is to make the race bigger each year. A number of athletes raised some concerns about the previous events, and we listened and made the changes to the course. The grass has been well planted, and it will be a fast course.

We have 29 foreign athletes from 15 countries competing tomorrow. We urge all fans to come see foreign athletes and our stars compete locally. We shall also have a kids’ event, masters, and senior masters for the community to have a chance to compete,” the event director said.