Reality: someone will appreciate our young athletes if we don’t

BY KENYATTA OTIENO The 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro brought out the best and the worst of Kenya. I will not go into the medal harvest because we have become accustomed to winning medals, we believe it is our right. Many people were shocked that Fiji called for a national holiday to celebrate their first Olympic Gold Medal courtesy of their Sevens Rugby team. The Kenyan delegation was full of drama from the word go. World Javelin champion Julius Yego refused to board the plane until his coach’s itinerary was changed. His coach was to land in Rio a day to Javelin heats then fly back a day later. It meant that if Yego qualified for the finals, which he did, he would miss the services of his coach. This is an athlete who honed his skills by watching javelin throws on Youtube. Soon Kenya’s party to the games was clouded in controversies after controversies. A coach was sent back home for gaining access to the Olympic Village using an athlete’s accreditation pass. The Kenyan ambassador to Brazil, the president’s man in Rio did not get accreditation to access the Olympic Village. Meanwhile, the Cabinet Secretary for Sports and his Principal Secretary were nowhere to be heard in Rio. It is believed that the Sevens Rugby team, which performed below expectations leaked word to President Uhuru Kenyatta, who dispatched his deputy, William Ruto to Rio to calm the waters in a contingent of over 250 people where 96 were athletes, coaches and NOCK officials. Meanwhile, Kenya continued to record mixed performances. To most Kenyans, these happenings are not news. Take Outs for Kenya Familiarity breeds contempt. We are so used to winning Gold Medals in international athletics meets, we think it is our right or it will always be so. Countries like Fiji and Burundi who won one silver medal in Women’s 800m know how rare these medals are. Because we reap so much after sowing very little, we are growing complacent by the day. When Kenyan born Ruth Jebet clinched Gold in 3000m Steeplechase for Bahrain, Kenyans were not amused. The fact that she would bag about Sh52 million while our athletes would be rewarded with a meal at State House and a token of about Sh1 million for a Gold Medal is not amusing. The reality is, someone will honour and appreciate our young athletes if we don’t. There is potential for medals out of our traditional middle and long distance races. Julius Yego and Boniface Mucheru both bagged Silver Medals in Javelin and 400 metres hurdles. The challenge is, these areas need time and money to nurture, which we are averse to spending. We like the middle and long distance runners who grow out of environment, social and economic culture in our Rift Valley Highlands. Why bother with the high coconuts when we have low-lying fruits at an arms stretch length. We love quick results and easy things. This brings us to allowances, a perennial problem in our sports circles. It is a shame that joy riders accompanying athletes go shopping and have fun when athletes are denied their stipend. We have to give Caesar what belongs to him. If we cannot compensate our athletes who do a good job in front of world audience, I wonder whom else we can pay their dues. The disciplined forces are the hubs of our athletics talent. Most of our athletes are policemen, armed forces or prisons department personnel. It is a good thing that these government departments give athletes time off from normal duties to train and compete. The problem is how many good athletes have we lost because they couldn’t join the disciplined forces? Our premium on national exam is counterproductive. Davis Rudisha failed to win an Olympic spot at the national trials in Eldoret. He got a wild card due to experience and he did not disappoint in Brazil. How many students are flushed down the drain because we tend to forget those who do not meet the cutoff point? Ezekiel Kemboi is a poster child of Kenyan athletics. That he lost his Olympic title to Brimin Kipruto was expected sooner than later, and he knew it would come. The irony is Kemboi is one of the few extroverted athletes we have, master of working up the gallery. It is unfortunate that he lost his Bronze medal for a line infringement. We learn that athletics prowess is not a preserve for the disciplined introverts like David Rudisha and Paul Tergat. Kenya is an individualistic society. We prosper in athletics because it is an individual sport. Our athletes have conditioned themselves to top performance levels as individuals. This is the reason why NOCK knows that Kenya will always perform despite shortfalls in management. Athletes have a personal responsibility to earn a living, and pride to defend. Patriotism comes second. It is the same in other spheres of Kenya society. Then we have the path of least resistance and selective amnesia. Kenya is a country that will meander around an obstacle just to keep the peace. This is why we go with middle and long distance because it does not involve breaking new frontiers. The problems we have seen in Rio were in London in 2012 and I can bet they will be with us in Tokyo in 2020. We forgot the past mistakes and we will soon forget Rio. We have a phobia of confronting our demons so the easier way out is to stable the boat even if it might sink soon. Vivian Cheruiyot’s Gold Medal in 5000m in Brazil gives us hope that fortunes change and we can change our attitude of managing our team at world events. She has run in the shadows of Tirunesh Dibaba of Ethiopia throughout her career, at 32 years of age and the emergence of Almaz Ayana few people expected her to win Gold. She gave us our first ever-Olympic Gold in women 5000m. There is hope.

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