By Noel ‘Bravo’ Francis, Special to TrackAlerts.com
The battle for the gold medal in this event should be among the Kenyans, Ethiopians and the Americans. Twice this year the Kenyan women ran under the previous official 4x1500m world record of 17:08.34 set by the University of Tennessee in 2009. The Kenyan team of World 5000m silver medallist Mercy Cherono, Irene Jelagat, Ann Karindi and Perin Nenkampi posted the newest record of 17:05.72 seconds in April.
All four athletes form the nucleus of the squad representing Kenya in Bahamas. Sheila Chepng’etich and wild card Faith Chepng’etich who is also the World Junior champion complete the six-member squad. If the record-breaking Kenyan quartet continues on this path, no other team should be in shouting distance of them. Moreover, Mercy Cherono is showing no mercy and has predicted that her team will break the record again at the World Relays.
The Kenyan squad got a lot stronger with the inclusion of World Championship 1500m bronze medallist Hellen Obiri who was initially left off the World Relays squad after missing the Kenyan Trials on April 26, 2014. Incidentally, a day earlier Hellen Obiri who did not have the luxury of a fast private jet was a few thousand miles away dominating the women’s 1500m at the Drake Relays in the United States and collecting a nice winner’s cheque (USD $25,000). Obiri who is also a member of the Kenyan Defence Forces won in a time of 4:04.88 at that meet. Her performance in the opening Diamond League meet showed that she is in great form over all distances.
Unlike Kenya, Team U.S.A. encountered a different selection dilemma. Three of their best 1500m runners (2011 World Champion Jenny Simpson, Shannon Rowbury and Treniere Moser) for various reasons will not be in Bahamas. Therefore, their absence has significantly weakened Team U.S.A who will not present the type of challenge track fans of middle distance running were anticipating. The U.S. squad for the 4x1500m is Heather Kampk, Morgan Uceny, Kate Grace, Sara Vaughn and Katie Mackey. Team U.S.A., whose focus was on winning the gold medal and not necessarily getting the world record will now be hard-pressed to achieve the former unless they can to do the latter.
Ethiopia despite having so many excellent female middle and long distance runners to form a dream team has opted for youth over more established stars for this 4x1500m event. The Ethiopian squad includes 2014 World Indoor silver medallist Axumawit Embaye, 2013 World Youth Champion Tigist Gashaw, 2013 World Youth silver medallist Dawit Seyaum, 2012 World Junior bronze medallist Senbere Teferi and the diminutive Gudete Feyne better known for her victory in the 1500m at the 2013 Jamaica International Invitational meet. Youthful exuberance should see this talented team putting on a good show.
However, some track fans including this writer are somewhat disappointed that the famous Genzebe Dibaba will not be competing in Bahamas. Genzebe has been in great form this season running faster at every opportunity over various distances. She is the world indoor record holder at 1500m (3:55.17), 3000m (8:16.60) and the 2-mile (9:00.48) all achieved this year in a 15-day period. She also won gold this year at the World Indoor Championship in the 3000m. She is one of the best finishers in the world and her blinding speed over the last 400m is on another level. Dibaba’s presence would have driven fear into her opponents, now her absence is a real loss.
Another outstanding Ethiopian in multiple World and Olympic medallist Meseret Defar will also miss this event and the rest of the 2014 season due to her pregnancy. She is due to give birth in June, hopefully to a future track star.
Whichever way you look at this final, track fans will be ecstatic throughout the 15 laps. Can any team prevent Kenya from collecting USD $100,000?
We close out the series with the highly anticipated 4x200m showdowns.