NAIROBI - Kenya looks set to reassert its dominance in middle and long distance races at the London Olympics after a year of recrimination and bloodletting following the death of one of its top athletes.
Although the country is still reeling from the yet unexplained demise of Beijing Olympics marathon champion Samuel Wanjiru, it is almost certain that Kenya will be the team to beat in the marathon races which they have completely owned and where they rewrote the record books over the last year.
The East African nation has assembled a more formidable force that might not only retain the men's honours, but is also capable of shattering the four-year Olympic marathon record set by Wanjiru in Beijing.
"This is one of the best teams we have ever assembled for the Olympics. It is unfortunate that Wanjiru lost of his life at an early age. He would have wished to have defend his title in London, but we hope the athletes we have selected will bring back the gold to keep alive Wanjiru's legacy," said Athletics Kenya (AK) secretary David Okeyo.
Reigning London marathon champion Wilson Kipsang, two-time world champion Abel Kirui and former world silver medallist Emmanuel Mutai captured the three slots out of a mind-boggling 278 men who had qualified for London Olympics.
The women's team, led by two-time London marathon winner and world half-marathon record holder Mary Keitany is also poised to end the women's Olympic drought after Catherine Ndereba won two silver medals in 2004 and 2008.
On-form Keitany will lead two of her team-mates, world champion Ednah Kiplagat and world silver medallist Priscah Jeptoo back to the British capital where the trio dominated the women's race in April, and she is the clear favourite to bring Kenya's first women's gold.
But Keitany, who loves competing in London, has warned her rivals that the Kenyans will plan a clean sweep at the Olympic women's podium.
"What I want in London is to bring at least a medal for Kenya. But we are all going there with the clear aim of getting gold, silver and bronze," said the Kenyan, who smashed her own London marathon record by more than a minute in April and in the event broke the Kenyan national record.
Kenya finished third overall at the last world athletics championship in Daegu, and most of the medallists will be in London with much to prove at the bigger stage.
However athletics coach Colm O'Connell has warned that the demand at the Olympics will be much greater on the athletes than at the world championships. "Kenya will not be satisfied unless the athletes bring back gold and the pressure on them in London will be tremendous," said the Irish-born coach, who has nurtured over 20 world and Olympic champions.
Olympic women's 800m champion Pamela Jelimo did not take part in Daegu, but the 22-year-old policewoman has made a remarkable comeback in time to push for her place to defend her title in London.
Jelimo, who became Kenya's first ever Olympic 800m women's champion in Beijing, signalled her return from a three-year lay-off when she stormed to victory at the world indoor championships in Istanbul in March.
She has also set the fastest time in the world in the 800m, running a 1:56.94 in Doha last month.
The decision to hold the men's 10,000m trials at sea-level in Eugene, Oregon early this month, further proved Kenya's seriousness to wrestle back its control of the distance event which have lost to their great African rivals, Ethiopia.
© 1994-2012 Agence France-Presse