Almost four years to the day since the IAAF (now World Athletics) World U18 Championships came to an end in Nairobi, Kenya, the East African capital will yet again take centre stage in the world of junior athletics as it hosts this year’s World U20 Championships.
Kenya successfully hosted the five-day World U18 Championships in July 2017, which saw it attract the highest number of spectators ever recorded in the event: 60,000 spectators in each of the last two days.
Buoyed by that success, Kenya, a powerhouse in athletics, bid for and won the rights to host the World U20 Championships in 2018 in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
The run-up to the event was, however, marred by reports of delays in completion of works on infrastructure and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has devastated the sports calendar worldwide for the last 18 months.
The pandemic also caused organizers to move forward the beginning of the event by a day due to logistical challenges arising from the pandemic.
Rather than begin on August 17, the championships will now begin on August 18 at the Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani, and conclude on August 22.
Despite these challenges, local officials say they are ready for the championships with top-notch refurbishment and maintenance of the stadium having already been undertaken.
The works include marking the track, rebranding of the facility’s seats, fully equipping the gym and upgrading security and fire safety features, such as installation of CCTV cameras and fire detectors all around the facility.
Additionally, the Stadion Hotel Complex at the Kasarani stadium has also been refurbished and furnished to international standards. The complex is a legacy project of the event, according to Sports Kenya director-general Pius Metto.
“The facility has been put to world standards; we have had World Athletics coming in to check. The facility is certified Class One category. The warm-up area and Nyayo Stadium, which is also a training centre, have been categorized as Class Two and ready to accommodate the athletes for this event,” Metto said.
“We have ensured that all that needs to be done for the athletes to enjoy the ambience of this place and to use the facility has been put in place.”
World Athletics president Sebastian Coe commended Kenya for its preparations noting that the government and the sport’s world governing body had been “absolutely determined” to deliver the event.
“I genuinely believe these championships will be spectacular and unearth a well of talent that will be serving our sport well for many, many years. If you think about who has come through our youth and junior championships, many of those athletes are out here winning medals in the last few days (at the Tokyo Olympics),” Coe said.
Coe, who acknowledged the immense challenges faced in organizing the championships, said it was essential to stage them to help bridge the gap between junior and senior athletics.
“The highest drop-out rate (from athletics) is often between 18 and 21. Even the vast majority of athletes that win medals at world junior championships don’t actually go on to represent their country in the senior team,” the athletics boss said.