Kenya's Olympic 3,000 metres steeplechase hopeful Abel Mutai yesterday declared that he is not just headed to London to make up the numbers. Mutai, who finished third at the Kenya trials in the event, said he will be gunning for glory alongside world champion Ezekiel Kemboi and Olympic champion Brimin Kipruto.
"I may not have those big titles but I am confident of finishing on the podium. I am relishing the honour of representing my country at the Olympics stage," he added. Mutai, who will be making his debut at the Olympics, said he can handle the pressure and expectations of the race which the country has dominated since independence. "We have a strong history and tradition in this race and being my first time, I want to do the country proud," he added.
Mutai, who won gold at the 2005 World Youth Championships in Morocco, said qualifying for the event was one of the biggest hurdles he has ever faced. "It was tough because we had Kemboi, Kipruto, Richard Matelong and Koech Kipsiele in the line-up. I want to prove in London that my victory was no fluke," he quipped. Mutai career has been a mixed bag since winning the World Youth title in 2005.
In 2007, Mutai bagged the African junior steeplechase title in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso in 8:29:76, out-sprinting Ethiopia's Yakob Yarso (8:29.99) and fellow Kenyan, Patrick Terer (8:34.59). Three days later, the versatile runner clocked 14:53.53 for seventh place in the 5,000m as he attempted the double Mutai was to miss out on qualification for the 2009 World Championships and an injury ruled him out of the 2010 season.
Mutai clocked 8:01:67 to finish second at the Rome Diamond League meeting. " I ran a very good race in Rome while testing my speed and endurance ahead of Olympic Games. I posted a good time but I know I can do better," he added.
Mutai said training with Kipruto and Kemboi has enabled him to learn a few things on the rigours of championship running at the major events. "It's been an eye opener training with them in the last couple of weeks and sharing ideas," added Mutai.
He predicted gold for Kenya if not a sweep in the event. "We have strong team and I am confident we can make it memorable in London." Head coach Julius Kirwa expressed confidence in Mutai and said the athlete will make a huge impression in London. "Mutai is a gifted and one of our promising athletes. He will be the man to watch," added Kirwa.