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Lessons for Kenya after global showpieces in July and August

Kenya's Milicent Ndoro in action during the women's 200m semifinal event at the Alexander Stadium, in Birmingham on day seven of the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, central England, on August 5, 2022. ( Kelly Ayodi, Standard)

Successes, failures and inconsistencies defined the country’s performance at the recently concluded athletics showpieces – the world championships, world Under-20 and the Commonwealth Games.

The stars are back home after a month of pure display of raw talent while flying Kenya’s flag and carrying the country’s hopes of conquering the athletics world.

From the University of Oregon in the US, to Cali, Colombia and Birmingham, United Kingdom, Kenyans posted mixed results.

They jetted into the country without the usual pomp, colour and to the mellow sounds of traditional songs, neither was there the usual traditional sour milk (mursik), because the country’s attention was on the General election held on August 9.

Ferdinand Omanyala of Team Kenya competes during the Men's 100m Round 1 heats on day five of the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games at Alexander Stadium on August 02, 2022 on the Birmingham, England. (Kelly Ayodi, Standard)

This was just a day after the curtains came down on the Commonwealth Games and two days after the end of World Under-20 championships.

But despite failures in the country’s disciplines, the Kenyan stars came back with bountiful lessons.

From Birmingham, the next edition of the Commonwealth Games will take place in 2026, in Melbourne and regional Victoria, the city that last hosted the competitions in 2006.

Kenya was ranked 13th with 21 medals – six gold, five silver and ten bronze medals, an improvement from 2010 Gold Coast where the country was placed 14th with 17 medals – four gold, seven silver and six bronze medals.

It’s now time to take a critical assessment of athletes’ form ahead of races. A number of athletes could not deliver medals for the country, especially at the World Championships because of injuries.

For example, the 2019 1500m world champion Timothy Cheruiyot lost his title to Great Britain’s Jack Wightman in Oregon.

Lawrence Cherono, of Kenya, holds the trophy after winning the 123rd Boston Marathon, on Monday, April 15, 2019, in Boston. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)

The Olympic silver medallist said he had an hamstring injury that had kept him out of training for weeks ahead of the 2022 world championships, which denied him a second world title.

“I missed training for a few months before the Championships because of a hamstring injury. I knew it would be a tough final. I will go back to the drawing board and strategise for future competitions,” Cheruiyot said.

According to three-time 3000m steeplechase champion Moses Kiptanui, athletes should not agree to compete when nursing injuries.

“As athletes, we should always be in a position to listen to our bodies. I remember in 1992 when I pulled out of the 1992 Olympic Games because I had not recovered fully from an injury. But I later posted an impressive performance at the 1993 World Championships where I won gold,” Kiptanui, a former world 1500m champion, said.

Talent nurturing

Nurturing a bigger pool of young talent in track and field events will ensure the country maintains its athletics powerhouse status.

It became apparent from the three championships that there was need to churn out more young talents.

Steeplechase coach and teacher Boniface Tiren said talent search and nurturing should start from the school level.

“The problem is that our schools administrations have completely discouraged co-curricular activities. We hope that perhaps, the new Competency Based Curriculum (CBC) will revive the culture of sports and nurturing of talent,” Tiren said.

There is opportunity in sprints

The country proved through African record holder Ferdinand Omanyala that it has potential to produce sprinters. It, however, did not have 100m sprinters at the World Under-20 championships.

Omanyala brought Alexander Stadium to a standstill, silencing defending champion Akani Simbine of South Africa in a jaw-dropping sprint to win Kenya’s first gold medal in 100m.

Lucrative rewards for medallists

Norah Jeruto of Kazakhstan won women’s 3000m steeplechase in Oregon. The Kenyan-born athlete was set to pocket Sh30 million as prize money from her country for the stellar show at Hayward Field. Kenyan gold medallists pocket Sh1 million.

“It takes a Kenyan athletics star 30 wins to make what Jeruto made in just one race. As a fan, I feel that our country should increase prizes for all athletes. We have to be proud of them,” an athletics enthusiast Kipkoech Rono said.

National camp that prepares elites for medals

Former 3000m steeplechase Olympic champion Mathew Birir says there is need to have national camps where teams preparing for global competitions can assemble.

According to Birir, a national camp will detach big shots from the hands of athletics managements, giving them time to focus on their races.

“Kenya’s performance collapsed due to poor tactics and late preparations,” he says.

“We should not rely on training camps run by management agents because they are here for business and the country wants medals. Athletics Kenya should set up national camps in areas such as Eldoret, Iten, Kapsabet, Baringo and other training bases,” Birir added.

Gold medallist Faith Kipyegon celebrates after winning women's 1500m final at the World Athletics Championships, on Tuesday morning. [AP]

Tactical questions

Abel Kipsang was a world leader as he lined up alongside Timothy Cheruiyot at the Oregon 2022 World 1500m, a tactical blunder that denied the top guns a medal at the global show.

Birir also raised concerns over fitness and level of preparedness, noting that a number of athletes, such as 5000m star Nicholas Kimeli and his 1500m compatriot Abel Kipsang, went to the World Championships as world leaders, but could not finish in podium places.

He says Kenya should change its tactics in future races.

“The rest of the world has known our secret. They know that we win in fast-paced races and they decided to be tactical by maintaining a slow pace and finishing fast,” the former star pointed out.

Focus on men’s team too

A look into the list of gold medal winners reveals Kenyan women were way above their male counterparts.

At the 2022 World Championships for instance, six out ten medallists were women.

The women medallists were Faith Kipyegon (1500m gold), Beatrice Chebet (5000m silver), Hellen Obiri (10,000m silver), Judith Jeptum (marathon silver), Margaret Chelimo (10,000m bronze) and Mary Moraa (800m bronze).

And at the Cali World Under-20 championships, six women and four men secured medals that placed Kenya fourth on the medal table. Three men and a similar number of women brought home gold at the Birmingham Club Games.

At the 2019 World Championships, three women and two men won gold medals for Kenya.

Hellen Obiri leading in 10000m race during Athletics Kenya Trials for World Championships and Commonwealth Games at The Moi International sports Center, Kasarani Stadium, June 25, 2022. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

Doping

A dark cloud of doping allegations hung over the country’s mission at the global shows. Top marathoners – Lawrence Cherono and Philemon Kacheran were provisionally suspended after testing positive for banned substances.

Cherono, an Olympian and a former Chicago marathon winner, had already travelled to Oregon, ready for the marathon race when the Athletics Integrity Unity (AIU) made public his positive test.

Kacheran, on the other hand, was preparing to fly the Kenyan flag at the Commonwealth Games respectively.

“There is no better time to address the elephant in the room which is hindering our success than now,” The Veteran Athletes Association of Kenya said in a statement.