by John Kwoba
NAIROBI, July 11 (Xinhua) -- There is moment when most athletes' lives could have followed a very different path but thanks to a strict diet, commitment to rigorous training and discipline, Kenya has succeeded to dominate the marathon world.
There is, of course, some truth to the argument that Kenya's elevation in the 42km distance underlines the current dearth of world challengers in the marathon distance at the London Olympic Games.
Yet it also says everything for the determination and character of a Kenyan marathon runner whose professional career might have ended before it had even begun.
It is a view that veteran marathoner Martin Lel has held in regards to the country's hope at the London games, which start on July 27, though the marathon race will come weeks later.
Lel, fifth finisher at the Beijing Olympics 4 years ago, where he clocked 2:10:24 in a race won by compatriot Samuel Wanjiru, is not counting his losses as he faces his sunset years in the sport knowing that clinching a medal in the games will be as hard as him climbing the Everest bare feet.
Instead, Lel has predicted better results for Kenya, saying with a tongue in cheek, a clear sweep of the medal podium in London is inevitable, at least records shows the same.
"The Kenya team is full of champions. Top athletes who have ruled supreme in different races across the globe. I missed the team to London this year, but I'm happy we have a very strong squad. It is the best team that anyone could pick and fingers crossed, they will deliver."
"It is not easy to break into the Kenya team. After all the Olympics come after every 4 years and now the best will fill the slots for Kenya and do the job. It does not matter who is in that team. They all have our blessings," said the three-time London Marathon Champion.
Such is the stature of the team that world's fastest marathoners Geoffrey Mutai 2:02:03, Moses Mosop 2:03:06 and Patrick Makau 2:03:38 (world record holder) will not be pulling on the green and red jersey for Team Kenya in London.
Instead, on the parade will be London and Frankfurt marathon champion Wilson Kipsang (2:03:42), Emmanuel Mutai (2:04:40) and Abel Kirui (2:07:33).
To any a standard, the times set by these three gentlemen are bone crashing and many countries would pay a leg to have them in their team. But for Kenya, their selection was a privilege that each savours.
"I want to deliver the country gold in London. I have brought 2 world championships crowns in Berlin and Daegu, now it is the time to step on the gas and go for the bigger apple, the Olympics," said Kirui.
Mutai, the silver medallist from the 2009 World Championships in Berlin, finished seventh in London marathon in April to lose his title to Kipsang. This saw him miss out the automatic selection with Chicago marathon champion Moses Mosop picked.
But a tendon injury ruled out Mosop and Athletics Kenya recalled Mutai to the team, to try for the second time to bring the country a medal.
The 27-year-old set the London course record of 2:04:40 in 2011 and won the 500,000 U.S. dollars World Marathon Majors jackpot after finishing second at the New York marathon last year completing a cycle that started with placing second in London in 2010.
For Kipsang, it is a challenge that he is ready to take in his strides. Not known until he almost broke the world record in Frankfurt in 2011, Kipsang showed his class in London to win in another strong performance stopping the clock at 2 hours 4 minutes 44 seconds, 4 seconds off Mutai's course record.
The women marathon team consists of World champion Edna Kiplagat, two-times London marathon champion Mary Keitany and Daegu Silver medallist Priscah Jeptoo. Berlin Champion Florence Kiplagat is training as a reserve.
Kenya won her maiden Olympic marathon title in Beijing four years ago through the late Samuel Wanjiru.
Yet there is an assumption that working for the national team is an honour no Kenyan runner could pass up. But it is hard to see too many benefits. Road running is pegged on passion, from fans, athletes and coaches. Take the passion away and the marathon running is nothing but too much is deadly.
All these athletes are giving up lucrative contracts to run in World leading marathons across the big cities for the Olympics.
None of the Kenya team members could draw less than 100,000 dollars in appearance fees. Yet in London Olympics, save for the little 12,500 dollars the government will reward winners, there is nothing to show for their effort.
But again, these appearance fees are pegged on the titles and fast times set by these athletes.
The holder of the Olympic crown will certainly receive much, just like Samuel Wanjiru saw his fees double fold after he clinched gold in Beijing, in his third marathon race.
Before Beijing, Wanjiru's appearance fees were just 50,000 dollars, but after the show and a strong performance in London and New York, it shot up to 250,000 dollars.
It is certainly a gamble worth taking to compete at the global biggest sporting stage, with focus on the future.
That is why, the training of the Kenya team has reached feverpitch in Iten and Eldoret, where they are based under head coach David Leting.
"The team we have is good. There is nothing knew that I will tell them. But just to polish up a few skills and then let their legs carry them through the distance. It is no longer an individual race as such."
"The Olympics is about team work and whoever wins, must pat their compatriots for the effort they put in to cover him up against the opponent. We are now counting days and the final preparation is very important to us," said Letting in Iten.
So as Lel pointed out, the six medals on offer in marathon are all up for Kenya to lose. The country has the talent, the terrain and the athletes keen to prove they are no minnows trying to punch above their weights.