•The national championships were used as trials for the Senior African Athletics Championships in Reduit, Mauritius
•Juniors who had shone at the World Under 20 Championships took centre stage as they upstaged pre-race favourites
• It was a day for many more to retreat and strategise for the next competition after a disappointing outing
Valencia Ibercaja 10km champion Daniel Simiu captured the overall mood of the winners of the Athletics Kenya national championship when he sunk to his knees after winning the men's 5,000m race.
With his hands raised high in jubilation and head directed towards the heavens, Simiu took a few seconds to contemplate the magnitude of his dominant win — a ticket to the Senior African Athletics Championships in Reduit, Mauritius in June.
He timed 13:23.17 as Ismael Kirui (13:26.98) and Felix Korir (13:29.26) finished second and third respectively.
A prayer answered — that was all he could say when asked about his pre-race expectations.
"I had never expected to win this race today and so I thank God so much. In the days leading up to this championships, I had been praying a lot, asking Him for a great performance and I am really delighted at this chance to represent my country again," Simiu said.
After he was unable to compete at the 2019 World Championships due to failure to meet anti-doping test requirements, Simiu redeemed himself by putting on the national team colours at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and last month's World Indoor Championships in Belgrade, Serbia.
Albeit he is still waiting for his first-ever podium finish, Simiu is not worried but believes God's timing is the best.
"At the World Indoors, I did not win a medal but I still count it as a success because I came away with many lessons. I know it is only a matter of time before I win my first medal...God has kept it confidential and I will just wait on Him. Now we head to Mauritius where we will fight tooth and nail against the Ugandans and the Ethiopians," he said.
For Kirui, a Form Two student from Baringo County, 2022 keeps getting better after he won the boys' under 18 6km race at the Agnes Tirop Memorial Cross Country.
He is a boy with big dreams, which include a gold medal at the World Under 20 Championships in Cali, Colombia in August.
"The race was tough. My strategy was to bid my time and let the others take charge of the race first because this is the first time I am running with most of these experienced athletes. I came here to majorly improve on my speed as I target a place at the World Under 20," Kirui, who trains under coach Barnaba Kitilit, said.
He added: "In Mauritius, a silver medal will be a job well done considering that Simiu is a tough opponent and is probably a favourite for the African title."
Day of upsets
It was a day in which giants faltered and upcoming stars announced their intent of spearheading a new era of Kenya's dominance in athletics.
In the men's 800m, World Indoor silver medalist Noah Kibet continued his seamless transition into the senior ranks when he stormed to first place in 1:46.75.
Nicholas Kebenei of Kenya Defence Forces and Elias Ngeny of Central Rift finished second and third in 1:47.22 and 1:47.47 respectively.
"When I went to Belgrade, I had not competed against senior athletes. It was my first time and today was my second. I am happy with the way things are going in my transition into the senior ranks. It wasn't an easy race because everyone else had prepared well," the World Under 20 800m bronze medalist said.
However, Kibet was cautious not to set lofty ambitions for the continental assignment but said he will give his best to get on the podium.
"Everything is God's plan in as much as we continue working hard in training. In Belgrade, I hadn't expected a silver medal but it did so this fills me with motivation. I wouldn't promise gold but I have faith in the Lord, who has enabled me to make the team today...I will win a medal in Mauritius," he said.
His fellow medalist at the World Indoors, Abel Kipsang, also punched his ticket to Reduit when he timed 3:36.17 to win the men's 1500m.
The 2016 World Under 20 1500m champion Kumari Taki (3:36.39) and Daniel Munguti (3:36.55) came second and third respectively.
Kipsang will be drawing upon his bronze medal in Belgrade in search for another podium finish in Africa.
"This will be my second time competing in Africa after having run at the 2019 All Africa Games in Morocco. This time I want to do better and claim another podium finish after my last one in Serbia," he said.
The National Police Service officer added that he will be careful to avoid the mistakes, which cost him a medal at the Tokyo Olympics where he finished fourth.
"My strategy has always been to take control of the race from the start. In Tokyo, I started off in the middle of the pack and at the bell, I was unable to surge ahead of those who were leading," he said.
Doomsday for favourites
While others celebrated, it was a day for many more to retreat and strategise for the next competition after a disappointing outing in Nairobi.
World 1500m champion Timothy Cheruiyot finished outside the podium places in the men's 1500m as was the case for Commonwealth 800m champion Wycliffe Kinyamal in the men's 800m.
Tokyo Olympics semi-finalist Mary Moraa was another casualty who finished outside the top three in the women's 800m as Jarinter Mawia clocked 2:01.39 to take the title ahead of Naomi Korir (2:01.65) and Vivian Chebet (2:01.85).
However, it was business as usual for African 100m record holder, Ferdinand Omanyala, as he took home the national 100m and 200m titles.
In the 100m, he clocked 10.04 as Hesbon Ochieng (10.52) and Tazana Kamanga (10.62) came second and third.
In the 200m, the Tokyo semi-finalist timed 20.43, ahead of Dan Kiviasi (20.90) and Mike Mokamba (21.01).
World Under 20 3000m steeplechase Jackline Chepkoech won the national title, clocking 9:26.11 as Celliphine Chespol (9:31.11) and Caren Chelangat (9:31.69) finished second and third.
In the men's 3000m steeplechase, 2016 African bronze medalist Abraham Kibiwott took top honours in 8:21.34 as Geofrey Kirwa and Benjamin Kigen claimed the next two places in 8:23.79 and 8:27.16 respectively.
Commenting on the three-day event, AK president Jack Tuwei told the athletes who have made Team Kenya that the job is halfway done.
"Let us remember that the African Championships is a qualifying event for the World Championship and Commonwealth Games. Last time we were ranked fourth on the medal standings so this year we need to do more to improve on that position," Tuwei said.
He said he has been in touch with organisers in Mauritius and it is all systems go for the event, which was postponed last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
100m hurdles women
110m hurdles men
400m hurdles women
400m hurdles men
3000m SC women
3000m SC men
20km Walk race men
20km Walk race women
Team manager- Ainsworth Maragara