SEASON TO FORGET: Deaths, doping ban threats and kits theft headline 2016 athletics period
Athletics had the lion’s share of tragedies that dented the 2016 sports season.
It was one of the most unfortunate years in sporting history and eulogies were included in the programme during Athletics Kenya Golden Gala at Panari Hotel in Nairobi, a fortnight ago.
The Local Organising Committee (LOC) dedicated a minute’s silence in honour of five athletes – world cross country runner Pamela Lisoreng, Gladys Wamoyo, Ian Mutuku, Japan-based Johana Maina and Nicholas Kimeli Korir – alongside former AK President Isaiah Kiplagat, who all passed on this year.
Several other athletes have died mysteriously in recent years. In 2013, Geoffrey Tarno, 30, run a hard and furious 40km, before he collapsed. He could already feel the tape break against his lean torso as he crossed the finish line of the Kimbilio Hospice Marathon.
But, unknown to him, this particular race would not add another medal to his fast-growing collection. With less than two kilometres to go, Tarno collapsed in a heap.
By the time his nearest opponent, who was about 700m behind got to him, Tarno had breathed his last. He might have died alone on the track, but his demise killed the dreams and ambitions of his wife and children too.
Questions linger over the circumstances surrounding the deaths of two other Kenyan athletes over the last five years. The cause of their deaths is a mystery and efforts to get post-mortem done have not been successful.
Their families or confidantes might not want to share the results or say what they know, but their silence only fuels rumours about debilitating effects of banned substances.
Tarno was not the first runner to die while in a competition. Five years before him, another Kenyan marathoner collapsed and died during a marathon in Brazil. Barnabas Kipkoech collapsed and died during a half marathon in Goiania, Brazil nn November 30, 2008.
On March 15, 2014, Pamela Chesopich Lisoreng, fresh from a routine morning run, collapsed on her way back home, and never recovered.
The 2016 season has, however, been a difficult one for athletics fraternity and sorority as Kenya’s number one sport faced several problems.
Sports stakeholders were in a mad-rush to enact the anti-doing laws to avert a ban by the World Anti-Doping Agency, which could have prevented Kenya from participating in Rio Olympics.
Doping claims and the alleged theft of kits by National Olympic Committee of Kenya (Nock) officials created fault lines and even threatened to kill the goose that lays Kenya’s golden sports egg.
About 43 athletes have failed doping tests in the past three years, with highest number, including high profile athletes, testing positive for banned substances last year.
This year, the IAAF extended Rita Jeptoo’s ban by another two years even as some Nock officials battle court cases over the Rio Olympics fiasco.
There was push and pull among Nock officials over athletes’ allowances and doping scandals in the run-up to the Rio Olympics.
Trouble started at the High Performance Training Centre in Eldoret, where track and field athletes put up. When Sports Cabinet Secretary Hassan Wario visited them, team captain Wesley Korir told Wario about the problems they were facing.
Korir said the government needed to clear cash rewards pending from 2011 and also lashed out at the Anti-Doping Agency of Kenya (Adak).
But before he left for Brazil, Korir, who is the MP for Cherangany, talked about poor handling of the team and asked questions about the kit.
The MP, who competed in Boston Marathon in April 2015, said that as the team captain, he was glad “to handle this issue once and for all.”
The team left for the Olympic Games before several of their complaints could be addressed.
The complaints that revolved around poor handling of the team, ticketing, accreditation and kits hit a crescendo at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport when world javelin Julius Yego complained that his air ticket was missing.
The Yego drama at the airport was one of the most embarrassing issues to rock the Kenyan team.
The issues came against a backdrop of reports that Major Michael Rotich, the track and field team manager, was caught on tape offering to warn athletes about drug tests in exchange of one-off fee of £10,000 (Sh1.2m).
The development thrust the team into the doping scandal limelight and almost eroded Kenya’s pride especially after Kipchoge Keino was feted by International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach with Laurel Award for his outstanding achievement in social engagements.