By Drazen Jorgic
ITEN, Kenya (Reuters) - Kenya's marathon coach sees Ethiopia's Tsegaye Kebede as the main challenger to his runners at the Moscow world championships, where he predicts little-known Kenyan athletes will sweep the event's medals despite their inexperience.
Abraham Kiplimo said overcoming the 2013 London Marathon winner Kebede, who is also an Olympic bronze medalist, will be vital if Kenya are to win men's marathon gold for the fourth world championships in a row.
"Kebede is our biggest threat. He is a tough guy, as is one of the Eritreans, and they are not easy... but we have no worry at all, we are well prepared," said Kiplimo, who also coached Kenya's marathon team in the 2011 Daegu world championships.
Kenya won five of the six marathon medals in Daegu but the east African country's team for Moscow has been weakened by injuries and withdrawals, casting doubt on whether they can dominate over 42.1 kilometers in Russia.
In the men's team, double world champion Abel Kirui is injured while London Olympics bronze medalist Wilson Kipsang has withdrawn from the team to focus on other races.
Kenya's marathon world record holder Patrick Makau and established runners Geoffrey Mutai and Emmanuel Mutai will also miss the championships.
In their absence, the team is made up of young athletes who are largely unfamiliar to the Kenyan public and have relatively little experience.
"I know maybe the country is worried because we don't have Abel, Geoffrey, Emmanuel or Wilson Kipsang, but as a coach I'm satisfied," Kiplimo said, adding that distance runners like Mike Kipyego and Peter Some will be celebrated in Kenya if they win the Moscow marathon.
"I've trained them, tested them, prepared them psychologically, they are very good," Kiplimo told Reuters in Iten, a small village in Kenya's Rift Valley.
"So we have gold, we have silver, we have bronze, especially in the men."
Bernard Kipyego, who has never won a major marathon, and Nicholas Kipkemboi, who in January completed his debut marathon in Dubai in 2:06:33 have also been selected, along with Bernard Koech, who at the start of June ran the San Diego half-marathon in 58 minutes and 41 seconds.
"For them to run 2:03 or 2:04 will be easy so long as they get good preparation," Kiplimo said, seated in the courtyard of Wilson Kipsang's Keellu hotel. "They are very young but motivated."
The Kenyan women's marathon team is spearheaded by the Daegu world champion Edna Kiplagat, with former 10,000m Commonwealth gold medal winner Lucy Kabuu the only other recognizable name. The rest of the team is relatively unknown.
Kiplimo, however, is confident the Kenyan women can repeat their success in Daegu, where they won gold, silver and bronze.
"They are young but this is not a problem. What is important is training and technique. They are hungry to win," Kiplimo said.
"I was the coach for Daegu marathon and I'm now using the same methods for Moscow so I have no worry at all. We shall bring glory to our country."
(Editing by Toby Davis)