Good showing, but probe why our athletics is losing steam

Kenya's Hellen Obiri reacts after winning the Women's 5000m final at the 2019 IAAF Athletics World Championships at the Khalifa International stadium in Doha on October 5, 2019. [AFP]
Kenya’s athletics team to the IAAF World Athletics Championship that ended on Sunday once again did the country proud by finishing second, with 11 medals (five gold, two silver and four bronze). Their gritty performance in the face of improved showing by most nations is commendable.

IAAF’s analysis of the championship showed that six championship records had been set, 43 countries had won medals, and athletes from 68 different nations had achieved at least one top-eight placing.

The IAAF data also revealed that 21 area records – double the number from 2017 – and 86 national records have been broken, underlining the global reach of the sport.

This improvement of other nations has had a direct impact on Kenya’s medal haul, which must worry Athletics Kenya (AK) officials.

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For the second consecutive World Championships, Kenya missed out on gold in the men 800m with only a bronze medal to show at the London Worlds two years ago.

This is a middle distance race Kenyans can lay claim to with pride as the most successful nation, having won five gold, two silver and three bronze medals since the World Championships started in 1983.

With David Rudisha now staring at sunset years in the sport, Kenya’s dominance over the distance is sliding away.

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If that scenario doesn’t suffice, the 0.01 seconds that separated Conseslus Kipruto from an Ethiopian challenger in the 3000m steeplechase should be a wake-up call for all concerned at AK.

Except for the 1983 and 1987 editions won by a German and Italian, and the 2005-2007 editions won by a Kenyan-born Qatari, this has been a Kenyan event.

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Ethiopia’s silver at Doha was their first ever medal in the event. And this, coming from Kenya’s eternal rivals in athletics must surely raise eyebrows.

The world is catching up with Kenya. Gone are the days our athletes would wake up and scorch the track. Yet, it did not start with Doha Worlds. The decline has been steady. Take the men’s 10,000m where we last won a gold medal in Edmonton, Canada, in 2001. In women 5,000m only Vivian Cheruiyot and Hellen Obiri have in recent years hoisted the Kenyan flag. The women’s 10,000m too is as good as gone.

The warning signs have been there. Sadly, AK has not responded accordingly with youth development structures. As if that is not enough, the sport is faced by another dragon in the name of doping. Add the lack of proper sports infrastructure and the future of athletics becomes bleaker.

Sports CS Amina Mohamed has shown she has some energy to burn and which she should now direct, as a matter of urgency, to finding a solution together with AK before the Tokyo Olympics in August next year.

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