The new face of kenya: AK must invest in sprints if they hope to return to the global stage

The men’s 4x200m quartet Stephen Barasa, Carvin Nkanata, Tony Kipruto Chirchir and Walter Michuki Moenga, who finished fifth  in 1:22.35 in a race won by Jamaica. [PHOTOS:OMULO OKOTH/STANDARD]
Kenya proved that the sprints pedigree that got them to the medal podium in 1968 and 1972 Olympic Games is still alive.

When they joined 500 athletes from some 45 nations at the inaugural World Series in Bahamas two weeks ago, which offered USD1.4 million, they came third on the overall medal podium behind United States and Jamaica.

The inaugural event was hugely successful. IAAF President, Lamine Diack said: “The IAAF’s faith in the innovative IAAF World Relays, a new event with a new presentation concept and The Bahamas ability to deliver a top global sports entertainment product have been richly rewarded.”

But for Kenya, some very poignant lessons were learnt. They need to diversify their focus and invest in the shorter relays.

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The men’s 4x200m quartet Stephen Barasa, Carvin Nkanata, Tony Kipruto Chirchir and Walter Michuki Moenga, who finished fifth  in a personal best time of 1:22.35 in a race won by Jamaica in a world record of 1:18.63, portrayed a new face of Kenya.

The four athletes were born and brought up in different regions of the country – Western, Eastern, Rift Valley and Nyanza. AK should thus cast the net wider if they want to get the right talent for sprints.

“We need exposure in Kenya and outside Kenya. We have proved our ability and we now want AK to take us to the next level of competition and exposure. They should take us to high-performance training centres to sharpen our skills,” Barasa, the team spokesman, said.

First gold

Asbel Kiprop, former 1,500m Olympic and twice world champion (2013 and 2011) anchored Collins Cheboi, Silas Kiplagat and James Kiplagat Magut to a world record time of 14:22.22.

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Kenyans won the first gold medal of the World Relays – the men’s 4x800m – (Ferguson Cheruiyot Rotich, Sammy Kibet Kirongo, Job Koech Kinyor and Alfred Kipketer) on the first day on Saturday.

Mercy Cherono, Faith Chepngetich Kipyegon, Irene Jelagat and Hellen Onsando Obiri, then bettered the 1,500m world record (16:33.58) which they had set at altitude in Nairobi (17:05.72).on April 20.

But while Kenyans celebrated wildly at the two world records, in women’s and men’s 4x1,500m relays, a lot remains to be done for the East Africans, better known for their global conquests over middle distance and distance races.

Athletics Kenya President, Isaiah Kiplagat, said they will work hard to ensure sprints regains its place on Kenyan athletics map.

“We will put more emphasis on sprints. Unfortunately, some elite athletes still ignore our meetings, but we will ensure they attend. But there is a huge reservoir of talent in Kenya and we will strive to expose the young talent while ensuring their elite counterparts attend to inspire them,” he told FeverPitch during the World Relays in the Atlantic Ocean island.

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exchange programme

Kiplagat intimated that plans are afoot to start an exchange programme between Kenya and Bahamas to tackle this imbalance, akin to the still-born arrangements that Kenya and Jamaica muted a few years ago.

Kenya and Jamaica were to start an exchange programme to send distance-running coaches to Jamaica while the Caribbean islands nation was to send sprint coaches here. But the plan floundered for reasons that were not made public.

“We have been discussing with Bahamas and we will up-date you on the progress of these deliberations,” Kiplagat told FeverPitch.

But observers were quick to put AK on notice, saying they should no longer sit pretty and hope that sprints will rub on autopilot like distance races and road races have done with minimal financial input.

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“We used to have quality sprinters, who got specialised training in American universities or institutions like Prisons, Police and Armed Forces,” says Ezra Odhiambo, a sports analyst.

“I recall with nostalgia the relays teams in Mexico and Munich Olympics and hope that we will return there. Daniel Rudisha, Charles Asati, Naftali Nyangau and Naftali Bon made us proud in Mexico City in 1968 while Asati, Nyangau, Robert Ouko and Sang’s gold in Munich in 1972 proved that Kenya could excel in sprints,” said Odhiambo.

Odhiambo also recalls sprinters like Rose Tata Muya, Ruth Onsarigo, Geraldine Shitandayi and Esther Kavaya, who dominated the regional and continental scene.

Kennedy Ochieng’, Samson Kitur, Simon Kemboi and Abednego Matilu won bronze in 4x400m in 1993 World Championships in Stuttgart, Germany.

Best sprinters

Many more like Elkana Nyangau, Gitonga, who won Commonwealth Games 400m gold in 1994 in Victoria, Canada, were among the country’s best sprinters.

“These are among our most gallant sportsmen and women who did great to this nation and one wonders what happened between the last two decades that Kenya can only enlist to an international competition a 400m relay team either as an afterthought, pressure or a favour to sulking athletes,” he charges.

He stresses that for Kenya to maintain momentum in sprints, emphasis should be put on the shorter relays – 4x100m, 4x200 and 4x400m relays.

After the United States snatched the women’s 4x800m relay gold medal from favourites Kenya, the East Africans cannot sit pretty either in the longer relays.

While former world champion and former Olympics silver medallist Janeth Jepkosgei and reigning world champion and her (Janeth’s) protégé, Eunice Sum, are still in good shape, the same cannot be said of their younger team mates Agatha Jeruto Kimaswai and who ran the first leg and Silvia Chemutai Chesebe.

Global standards

The team was divided into two diametrically opposing half – two very strong and two who have not attained the global standards.

Our girls could not match the Americans who won the race decisively – Chanelle Price, Geena Lara, Ajee Wilson and Brenda Martinez pound for pound.

Odhiambo warns that Kenyans may be light years behind America and Jamaica, adding that more effort must be put on technical and financial elements in training of athletes.

“A training camp, like the ones that dot the Rift Valley for distance runners, should be set up in low altitude areas like parts of Nyanza like Kisumu or Oyugis, Mumias or Mombasa and specialised coaches attached to them to train the athletes,” he said.

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