Nairobi, July 11 (IANS) Kenya has picked up the gauntlet thrown by Caribbean and European countries in field events and sprint competitions and will counter any challenge to its dominance of the World Under-18 Championships, which start here on Wednesday.

The host country has a team of 46, only bettered by China who have a contingent of 51 athletes, and is aiming to improve on their last performance where they bagged 13 medals — five gold, four silver and four bronze from a team of 25 athletes — when the curtains rise on the championships, reports Xinhua news agency.

Kenya Team Captain David Saruni has pledged to lead from the front, albeit in an event that is not Kenya’s forte. Saruni is out to prove that Kenya can be a force to reckon with in sprints by sealing a podium finish in boys’ 400m hurdles.

“I want to follow in the footsteps of World 400m hurdles champion Nicholas Bett by making history on home soil,” said Saruni. “I want to be the first Kenyan to win a world title in sprints at this edition of youth competition.”

While all eyes will be on exciting South African prospect Sokwakhana Zazini in the one-lap contest over the barriers, Saruni is biding his time to stage an ambush in the final straight to seal the gold.

Zazini, who set a world U18 best of 48.84 seconds in Pretoria on March 17, is the only athlete in the entry lists to have run faster than 51 seconds.

Also a formidable athlete in the flat 400m sprint, he will focus on the hurdles discipline with his eyes firmly focused on the clock.

But his strongest challenge could come from Kenya’s Naadokila Moitalel Mpoke, who holds a personal best of 51.20 and Saruni.

There is also Ismail Manyani of Morocco (51.83) and Asian youth champion Halomoan Edwin Binsar of Indonesia (51.96).

Saruni says he has had the best training under legendary coach Rose Tata-Muya since the team entered camp three weeks ago.

“I have gained courage and skills to attack the hurdles. I am going for gold and as the captain, I should lead by example,” said Saruni. “I’m targeting sub-50 seconds at the world youth event before focusing on qualifying for the World Under-20 Championships next year in a new event.”

That new event will be the 800m race, where he hopes he will take over from the ageing Olympic champion David Rudisha.

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