By Omulo Okoth
What’s all the excitement about oil in Turkana? Asks Wilson Wahome Kiriungi. Don’t we have gold, better yet, the type that we don’t even have to dig around for? He poses in a tongue-in-the-cheek, yet fact-laden discourse, which he sent to me last week.
I thought I should share this exciting, if intellectually illuminating piece by Kiriungi, CEO of Run with Kenyans, with my readers today.
“We struck it in the summer of 1968 when Kipchoge Keino won the Olympic title in 1,500m in Mexico. Keino’s trailblazing performance, it is believed, ushered an era of total domination by Kenya in distance running such as the world had never seen before. So, black gold aside, we have real gold galore. And our runners are only getting better.
(Editor’s note: Naftali Temu was the first Kenyan to win an Olympic gold, in 10,000m in Mexico)
The top 20 marathon times in 2011 were all run by Kenyans. Kenyans not only swept all the five World Marathon Majors in 2011, they also set new course records. Patrick Makau in Berlin, which was also a world record; Geoffrey Mutai in Boston and New York (no man before had ever set record times in Boston and NY the same year); Moses Mosop in Chicago and Emmanuel Mutai in London.
Yet, as exciting as 2011 was, this is the year of the Olympics. In a few days, and as the world watches, the black, white, red, and green-striped banner will be raised multiple times against the backdrop of a beautiful, Pokomo lullaby-inspired band music.
Already, one of the most closely followed and speculated upon athletic event of the first half of 2012 was the selection of Kenya’s Olympic marathon team.
To make a three-man marathon team, Kenya had more than 300 runners who had made the IAAF A-qualifying entry time for the Olympic marathon to choose from. Compare that to, say, Great Britain, who only had three runners posting the qualifying times.
Winnow down from 300 to the best five, and you’re left with the headache of deciding which three athletes to pick from among the world record holder (Patrick Makau); two runners who posted the fastest and second-fastest marathon runners ever (Geoffrey Mutai and Moses Mosop); a back-to-back World champion (Abel Kirui); and current London Marathon champion, who only missed the world record by four seconds last year in Frankfurt (Wilson Kipsang).
Throughout the Olympics, Kenya will be in the news – all over the world. Not because sections of the population have risen against each other in politically-inspired frenzies of savagery, not because a politician has stolen millions from the public (again), and not because people are dying of hunger because the rains failed for only one season.
Even if, God forbid, we are in the news for these usual reasons, we will also be in the news because of winning. Our runners will make Kenya shine.