18 June 2017

Kenya: Fast-Rising Akinyi Ready for Higher Hurdles, Literally

Upcoming hurdler Irene Akinyi from Kenyenya, Kisii County, had planned for more than just winning her 400m hurdles race to qualify for World Under-18 Championships set for July 12-16 at Kasarani.

Being the hosts, Kenya have the leeway to field at least two athletes in all the 20 events at the world youth event regardless of the qualifying time.

Inspired by World 400m hurdles champion Nicholas Bett and Olympic 400m hurdles silver medallist Boniface Mucheru, Akinyi's target was to surpass the qualifying mark. And that is what the Form Four student at St Peter's Keberesi did, winning her 400m hurdles final in 61.73 seconds to beat the qualifying time of 62.25. Leah Jeruto timed 61.87 to also qualify for the World youth competition.

EASILY WON

Both Akinyi and Jeruto had warmed up for the final with victories in their semi-finals heats in 62.47 and 63.83 respectively.

"My focus was to qualify clean by beating the qualifying time. I knew I would make it after I ran 62.47 in the semis," said Akinyi. "I polished up my timing and approach at the hurdles and it worked out well."

Akinyi, who embraced the hurdles in Standard Eight at Malera Primary School, Migori County, attributes her good performance to coach Charles Onwonga, who has nurtured her skills.

After winning both the 400m hurdles and 100m hurdles at the national primary schools championships in 2013, she linked up with Onwonga at St Peter's Kaberesi.

The results were almost instant when she won the 400m hurdles at 2014 national secondary school games and came third in 2015. She reclaimed her title in 2016 before finishing second in Mombasa a week ago.

"The hurdles is a highly technical event just like steeplechase and I really didn't have the proper tactics. That is what I have worked on with Onwonga," said Akinyi.

She tried her hand in 800m and 1,500m at school games but fell short. The 16-year-old hopes to represent Kenya at 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. But first, she is eyeing a podium finish at the World youth event as she singled out athletes from Cameroon, Nigeria and Jamaica as a big threat. Akinyi and the rest of 59-man Team Kenya moves to residential training in Nairobi on Sunday ahead of the event.

"Olympics is every athletes' dream and I pray for God mercies."

Onwonga described Akinyi as a focused and disciplined athlete, who has a bright future not only in athletics but also education.

"She only needs proper guidance and exposure to high magnitude races," said Onwonga. "She is a keen listener, fast learner and punctual and that is why she is able to perform well."

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