NAIROBI, March 7 (Xinhua) -- The battle for World Cross Country Championship medals turned nastier when United States named up to five former Kenyans in its team to Aarhus, Denmark.
However, Athletics Kenya vice chairman Barnaba Korir has watered down the move saying the country's production chain is still churning out top talent and will defeat their rivals in this year's World Cross Country Championships in Aarhus on March 30.
"Don't castigate them as traitors to our national flag. They have been naturalized and followed all the laws to compete for United States of America," Korir said on Thursday in Nairobi.
"Instead let Kenyans appreciate them like we have previously done before with sportsmen with Kenyan roots including Divock Origi (Liverpool striker playing for Belgium) and Chris Froome (cyclist for Britain)," he added.
Kenya talent is chocking and many elite runners find it hard to make the national team and it was no surprise when U.S. announced that its national cross country champion Shadrack Kipchirchir, a 2016 Rio Olympic 10,000m finalist, will lead the team of 28 to Denmark.
Others are Leonard Korir, Hillary Bor, Stanley Kebenei and Emmanuel Bor. All will be running in the senior men 10km race, with the additional runner in the group being U.S. born Mason Ferlic.
Korir termed the USA team a Kenya 'B' line up and warned competition in Aarhus will be even stiffer and nobody should take it for granted.
Alongside U.S., Kenya also face its perennial rivals in Ethiopia and Uganda with other Kenyans representing Qatar, Turkey and Bahrain.
"This huge Kenya representation across the globe means the country is exporting top talent. It shouldn't be a concern for us since those are personal decisions for them to change allegiance," he said.
Kipchirchir, Korir and Kebenei were part of the US team for the 2017 World Cross Country Championships in Kampala, where they finished fifth in the senior men's team standings, just six points shy of a medal.
Frerichs, the North American record-holder in the steeplechase, will be joined by three-time NCAA champion Karissa Schweizer, Marielle Hall, Stephanie Bruce, Anne-Marie Blaney and Sarah Pagano.
The allure of lucrative deals, going to school and promise of better life alongside an effort to escape poverty at home are to blame for the influx in the change of allegiance for Kenyan star athletes.
Last month, the government acknowledged that it owes Kenyan athletes 235 million shillings (2.3 million U.S. dollars) in pending awards dating back as far as the 2012 London Olympic Games.
Sports Principal Secretary Peter Kaberia said they have been unable to pay due to lack of funds.
"We owe our sportsmen and women who have excelled in past international events 2.4 million US dollars. Unfortunately, the figure keeps rising as they continue to win. We require budgetary support to be able to pay them considering that these awards continue to encourage our athletes to do well in international events," said Kaberia.
However, those athletes who ditch Kenya passports for foreign adventure are paid promptly and supported in their training, educations and getting employment.