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Kenyans confident of bagging gold in 800m at Beijing Olympics
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16:55, August 18, 2008

Kenyans have expressed optimism the country will get its first gold medal later Monday when 800m and 3000m steeplechase get underway in Beijing.

Kenya's Pamela Jelimo is expected to lead her village mate from Kapsabet in Rift Valley but five years her senior, Janeth Jepkosgei, to a gold and silver medal performance in the women's 800m.

"Definitely Jelimo must win gold today. I also expect Chepkosgey to win a silver medal," David Kamau, a 32-year-old Nairobi hawker told Xinhua ahead of the race.

Kamau said the medal prospects looked good this week despite the field of challengers, but it is in two of Monday's races that Kenyans and the world at large would consider anything short of a rich harvest of silverware a disaster.

Kenyans also expect a clean sweep in the men's 3,000 metres steeplechase in which the east African nation has taken gold in six of the last eight games.

But it will be the moment of reckoning when Jelimo and Jepkosgei compete in the 800m final, a race the two have dominated with impressive times for the last one year.

"A clean sweep is Kenya is hoping for in the 3,000 metres steeplechase men. I hope by the end of the day, Kenya will have moved up the medal table," said Risper Auma, a university student.

The Kenyans are also debating who will take bronze after the Kenyans. They say Mozambique's Maria Mutola is challenging for a medal in her sixth Olympics, a record appearance by any measure.

But Russian Tatiana Andrianova, fifth in AthensGames four years ago, ran very tactfully in the qualifying rounds, finishing third behind another medal candidate, Ukraine's Yuliya Krevsun, in the semi-finals on Saturday night.

"It's a must. Kenya must win a gold medal today. We have high hopes in the 800 metres and 3,000 steeplechase which has always been our race. I expect gold and silver medals in the 800m race and all the three in the steeplechase," said Michael Omondi, a trader in Nairobi.

The two lap race will be historic as Kenya is chasing her first ever women gold. Is it gold, silver or both? Jelimo and Jepkosgei are highly tipped to complete a 1-2 finish and bring home glory, fame and honour.

And the dream is likely to be realized going by the style in which the two managed their timings in their respective semi-finals on Saturday.

Jelimo won heat two with little struggle in 1:57.31 seconds ahead of Moroccan Hasna Benhassi who clocked 1:59.03. Jepkosgei defied all odds to clinch heat three in 1:57.32.

Nicknamed "Kapsabet Express" Jelimo is ranked second in the world with a personal best of 1:54.99 and is chasing a share of the 68 million shillings IAAF Golden Jackpot after the Olympics.

Two remaining races in Zurich and Brussels next month will determine whether or not the 18-year-old teen will pocket the lump sum. The only other contender is Croatian high jumper Blanka Vlasic.

Jelimo has made such rapid progress she has already broken legend Maria Mutola's African record with a new mark of 1:54.97 and remains unbeaten over the distance and is on line for sharing the Golden League million dollars jackpot with just two meetings remaining in Zurich and Brussels.

However, she is keeping her feet firmly on the ground as regards winning the Olympic title. "In sports there must be a winner and a loser," Jelimo said. "There must be a number two and number one

Jepkosgei is the one who brought down Mozambican track legend Mutola during the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne to earn the sobriquet "Eldoret Express."

The 25-year-old former 400 metres hurdler took aside teenager 18-year-old Jelimo last year and advised her to switch from 400m to 800m - she took her advice and has since beaten her five times in five races and by huge margins.

"She (Jelimo) is a good friend of mine. She is still young, so I think she will get more advice from me," said Jepkosgei before her departure to Beijing last week.

"I got to know her last year and she was doing the 400m in the juniors. We come from the same area (Kapsabet) so I took her aside and told her she can run 800."

More than just friends to 18-year-old Jelimo, who considers the older runner to be like her older sister but that will all be set aside once the Olympic title is up for grabs this afternoon.


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5 Germany 9 6 7 22
6 South Korea 8 9 5 22

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