•The Moroccan heaped praise on Kenya as the birthplace of steeplechase and said the chance to race at Moi Stadium, Kasarani was too good to pass up.
•He is among big names expected to compete at the one-day event that has so far attracted 265 athletes from Kenya and beyond.
Olympic 3000m steeplechase champion Soufiane El Bakkali says he is privileged to visit Kenya for the first time as he prepares to compete at next Saturday's Kip Keino Classic.
The Moroccan heaped praise on Kenya as the birthplace of steeplechase and said the chance to race at Moi Stadium, Kasarani was too good to pass up.
"I am so happy to be here because Kenya has been traditionally the home of the steeplechase. When I received an invitation from Barnaba Korir (meet director), I immediately took up the opportunity," Bakkali said.
Bakkali said his main aim is to enjoy himself as he pits himself against a Kenyan contingent that is determined to exert revenge after losing the steeplechase Olympic crown at August's Tokyo Olympics for the first time in 53 years.
"This meeting is the perfect way to close out the year. I am simply looking forward to race here and come up against other Kenyan runners who are really wonderful in their own way," he said.
After so many close misses, the Moroccan finally got the gold he has craved for so long when he produced an exceptional kick in the last lap at Tokyo.
Recalling that emotional win, Bakkali admitted it was not easy to upstage the Kenyans who have held a stranglehold on the crown.
"It felt great to finally win gold because I have been working so hard towards it alongside my coach. Kenyans have dominated the steeplechase for so many years and it was a momentous achievement for me to be the first in history to break that streak," he said.
Bakkali was speaking on arrival at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport early Saturday morning.
He is among big names expected to compete at the one-day event that has so far attracted 265 athletes from Kenya and beyond.
Accompanying him was his coach, Karim Tlemcani, who echoed his athlete's words about their expectations for the meeting.
"This is just a friendly competition. For us, it is just to enjoy and close out the year in the best way possible," he said.