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Schools that mentored Olympians toast to glory as questions on performance raised

NATIONAL
By Stephen Rutto | August 10th 2021

Emmanuel Korir, of Kenya, wins the men's 800-meter final at the 2020 Summer Olympics on Aug 4, 2021, in Tokyo.[Courtesy]

For Olympians returning home from Tokyo, particularly those from the Rift Valley, the traditional sour milk (mursik) is ready for partaking.

Despite the restrictions occasioned by the Covid-19 pandemic, traditional songs such as Otoroch Lakwet (Let us welcome the bride) by Maureen Jeruto, Kararan Tumdo (The song is great) and Very Nice Tumdo (The celebration is good) by Rose Cheboi among others will rent the air at our international airports.

Kenya topped Africa and was third globally behind US and Italy in the Tokyo Olympics in the athletics category after securing 10 medals; four gold, for silver and two bronze.

The Tokyo 2020 performance, however, did not match the Rio 2016 results where the country won 13 medals; six gold, six silver and one bronze medal.

Yesterday, North Rift schools that identified and nurtured some of the talents that won the country medals were celebrating their products.

 “We are still celebrating. The entire school is still exuberant after our product, Emmanuel Korir won gold in 800m. Our coach and junior athletes in the school were in constant communication with Korir before the race and they encouraged him,” said Boniface Kunusia, the Principal of St Francis Kimuron Secondary School in Elgeyo Marakwet, which produced two-time 800m Olympic Champion David Rudisha and his successor Emmanuel Korir.

St Francis Kimuron is about nine kilometres away from one of the world’s athletics training destinations, Iten. It is also not far from St Patrick’s Iten, a once athletics powerhouse.

Kunusia attributes the performance of the school’s talent to a favourable climate owing to its high altitude location.

“We do not have the pleasure of modern track and field facilities but we give our junior athletes the maximum support they need to train. We have the advantage of a good climate, which is conducive for training. Athletics is a culture in Kimuron,” Kunusia said.

He said the school is ready to welcome Korir in style as soon as he jets into the country from Tokyo.

“It was not a surprise that he (Korir) won gold in Tokyo. He is our inspiration and I am certain we will be churning out more 800m Olympians,” Kunusia said.

And about 68 kilometres away in Nandi County, students at Kosirai High School, which produced 3,000m steeplechase athlete Abraham Kibiwott, who finished 10th in Tokyo, were also jubilant.

School Principal, Paul Kosgei, said the 2020 Olympic Games confirmed the institution’s status as a powerhouse in athletics. Conseslus Kipruto, who won gold in 3,000m steeplechase during the Rio Olympics, went to Kosirai High school. “We are a proud school because we have proved that we can strike a balance between athletics and academics. We have been scouting for young talents from primary school championships as well as training our young talents in camps,” Kosgei said.

Kosgei added that the school, known for producing steeplechasers, established barriers in the institution’s muddy track but could not set up water jumps.

“We are lucky because we have previously been using the nearby Mosoriot Teachers Training College’s field before we erected our own barriers. We had a plan to establish water jumps but we couldn’t do it due to disruptions resulting from the (Covid-19) pandemic,” the principal said.

He said good performance at the Olympic has encouraged the school’s coach to scale up training ahead of upcoming global competitions such as next year’s world championships.

“We followed the Tokyo Olympics keenly because the games happened at a time when most athletes had no adequate time to train. We are glad our products represented us well and made the country proud. We salute them,” he said. “One of our students, Emmanuel Wanyonyi, is now preparing to represent the country in the World Under20 championships in Nairobi from August 17-22. Wanyonyi clinched the 800m ticket and we are hoping that he wins a medal.”

But as the schools, which have produced world beaters were celebrating, veterans, who have represented Kenya at the global stage, were raising questions and giving suggestions on how Kenya will sustain its dominance.

3,000m steeplechase silver medallist at the Atlanta 1996 Olympics, Moses Kiptanui said urgent steps needed to be taken if Kenya wants to continue winning gold in the event.

Kiptanui, a three-time world champion and the first man to run 3,000m steeplechase in under eight minutes, said Kenya had the potential to win more medals in Tokyo, but some opportunities were squandered due to what he terms as poor preparations.

“It is unfortunate that we lost our grip on the steeplechase. I had offered to train the Olympic-bound squad for free, ahead of the Tokyo Games, but no one listened to me. What I saw in Tokyo is the result of poor coaching,” Kiptanui, who is now a businessman in Eldoret, said.

Kiptanui wondered why the country produces sterling performance in the marathon and not in 10,000m.

“Marathon and 10,000m are long distances and there is no way we could have performed better in one and poorly in the other. We need a serious re-looking on our strategies. We are still using the 1980 and 1970 tactics to win in 2021,” he added.

On public training facilities, Kiptanui asked county governments to invest in running tracks to avoid cases where athletes compete for space with motorists on major roads as they go about with their training programmes. Tecla Chemabwai Sang, a retired sprinter and middle-distance athlete, who represented Kenya in 1968 Summer Olympics lauded athletes for testing American and Jamaican dominance in sprints.

She, however, warned that Kenya may lose dominance in traditional events such as 800m women, 3,000m steeplechase and 5,000m among others if coaching tactics are not changed.

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