Olunga to challenge Kipchoge and Co for top Soya honours

Harambee Stars striker Michael Olunga is among five nominees shortlisted for the 2019 SOYA Male Athlete of the Year ahead of the awards gala slated for January 24 in Mombasa.

Olunga will however face stiff opposition from top athletes including world marathon record holder Eliud Kipchoge, world 1500m champion Timothy Cheruiyot, Olympic and world 3,000m steeplechase champion Conseslus Kipruto as well as world half marathon record holder Geoffrey Kamworor.

In his myriad of achievements, Olunga became the first Kenyan to score a brace at the prestigious Africa Cup of Nations as he helped Kenya beat Tanzania 3-2 in a group stage clash in last years championship held in Egypt. He was subsequently named man of the match in that pulsating clash.

He is also the first Kenyan to find the back of the net in the Spanish top division.

At club level, Olunga who currently plies his trade for Japanese side Kashiwa Reysol, scored a total of 29 goals and provided nine assists in 33 appearances in all competitions with 27 goals being in the League while two in the Domestic Cup.

In August, Olunga was crowned Japanese League 2 Player of the Month after scoring his first hat-trick for Kashiwa Reysol against Renofa Yamaguchi after leading his team in a 4-1 hammering of Yamaguchi.

On his part, superman Kipchoge hit world headlines when he became the first man on planet earth to break the two-hour barrier in a men’s marathon at the famous INEOS 1:59 Challenge.

Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge, the marathon world record holder, celebrates after a successful attempt to run a marathon in under two hours in Vienna, Austria, October 12, 2019. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner

Kipchoge started off the year by winning London Marathon for a record fourth time in a time of 2:02:37.

However, it was in October that he became the first man to run the marathon in under two hours when he timed 1:59:40 in a specially arranged race in Vienna.

As for Cheruiyot, he savoured an impressive 2019 both locally and in Diamond League meetings winning 10 out of 11 races and that included the ultimate race in Doha where he raced to a first ever gold medal at the IAAF World Championships. He also won the Diamond League trophy.

Timothy Cheruiyot celebrates his feat in Doha

Another star making the list is steeplechaser who is remembered for his  ‘magical’ dash in Doha following a troubled 2019 season where he had never won any race before the World Championships in Doha owing to a nagging ankle injury that saw him pull out of several races including dropping out of the race after four laps at the African Games in Morocco.

He also dropped out after only three laps at the World Championships trials at Nyayo Stadium. He however donned Team Kenya livery in Doha ostensibly to safeguard Kenya’s longstanding 3,000m steeplechase tradition at the global meet when it seemed that the country’s dominance was over. He won gold by the thickness of a vest.

Conseslus Kipruto claims gold at the finihs line at the World Championships in Doha

Another nominee is Kamwaror who won the New York Marathon title for the second time in three years.

Prior to that, Kamworor took 17 seconds off the World Record at the Copenhagen Half Marathon winning the IAAF Gold Label road race in 58:01.

He had returned to the Danish capital, the scene of his first of three World Half-Marathon titles, in a bid to improve on the World Record of 58:18 set in Valencia last year by Abraham Kiptum.

Outside of his appearances at the World Half Marathon Championships, it was Kamworor’s first 13.1-mile race since November 2014.

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