Korir, Saruni harbor realistic medal hopes as track & field begins at Olympics


EL PASO, TEXAS (KTSM) – With track and field set to take center stage at the 2020 Olympics, multiple athletes with ties to the Borderland are getting ready to run for a medal in Tokyo.

Two of the top UTEP athletes from the last five years harbor perhaps the best hopes at a medal for the Borderland. Kenyan middle distance stars Emmanuel Korir and Michael Saruni will hit the track in the preliminary round of the 800 meters on Saturday morning (Friday night in America) as two of the top 15 half-milers in the world.

Saruni won the 800 at the Kenyan Olympic Trials in June, with Korir close behind in third place. Korir then raced to a second-place finish at Diamond League Monaco, in a race that featured 10 Olympians. Korir’s time of 1:43.04 is the second-fastest time in the world this year heading to Tokyo.

Both men won NCAA championships while they were at UTEP; Korir took home the 2017 800m outdoor championship and Saruni won the indoor 800m in 2018. They still train together in El Paso with fellow Kenyan Paul Ereng, the 1988 gold medalist in the 800 who now is a Miners assistant coach.

Ereng is optimistic about Korir and Saruni’s chances in Tokyo to find their way to the podium, particularly after world number one Donavan Brazier did not qualify for the Olympics. It’s still a stacked field, but the pair of Kenyan Miners have as good of a chance at a medal as anyone in the field.

“When everyone is there and you stamp your authority as the guy who dominates the event, and the main person, it makes a difference,” Ereng said. “It’s open, but it’s open for a reason. I’d love to see them both on the podium. I want to see them put their best foot forward for the finish line.”

Saruni will run in heat four of the first round of the 800m, which will take place at 7:14 p.m. MT on Friday. Korir was seeded in heat six of the 800m first round, which will hit the track at 7:30 p.m. MT Friday. Korir is also currently slated to run the 400 meters, which begin Sunday in Tokyo (Saturday in USA).

Korir and Saruni are just two of a bevy of Borderland athletes getting set to compete in Tokyo. Former Miner Blessing Okagbare (Nigeria) advanced to the semifinals of the women’s 100 meters by winning her round one heat in 11.05 seconds. Okagbare will run in the semifinals on Saturday at 4:15 a.m. MT. She is also slated to run in the 200 meters (beginning Sunday) and the 4×100 meter relay (begins Aug. 4).

UTEP’s Ned Azemia (Seychelles) already bowed out of the men’s 400m hurdles on Thursday evening.

Sean Bailey (Jamaica), a recent UTEP graduate, will compete in the mixed 4x400m relay Friday at 5:12 a.m. MT. He will also run in the men’s 4×400 later in the Games. Another former Miner, Asa Guevara (Trinidad & Tobago) will also compete in the men’s 4×400.

Rachel Dincoff, a United States discus star who doubles as a volunteer assistant coach at New Mexico State, will throw in Group A of the prelims of the discus competition, which will begin at 6:30 p.m. MT on Friday.

Former UTEP national champion Tobi Amusan will run in round one, heat three of the women’s 100m hurdles on Friday, 8:01 p.m. MT for her home nation of Nigeria.

Incoming UTEP runner Loubna Benhadja (Algeria) will compete Friday in the women’s 400m hurdles in heat five, which is set to begin at 6:32 p.m. MT. Former Miner Churandy Martina (Netherlands) will run in the men’s 4x100m Wednesday, Aug. 4.

Patrick Kivlehan (USA, baseball), Rogelio Romero (Mexico, boxing), Joaquin Esquivel (Mexico, Soccer), Adrian Mora (Mexico, Soccer), and Alena Sharp (Canada, golf) will all begin or continue competition over the weekend and next week in Tokyo.

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