Why Kenyans have no equals on the roads

By Kimathi Kamau: Sunday, November 17th 2019 at 00:01 GMT +3 | Athletics
April 28, 2019 Kenya's Brigid Kosgei in action during the women's elite race REUTERS

There is concern though that focus in road races will affect Kenya’s show.

With opportunities to earn a decent living on the track diminishing, Kenyan athletes have sought refuge on the roads.

In the past, the natural progression for the elite runner was transitioning to road running after a decade or so on the track where big names such as Moses Tanui, Paul Tergat, Eliud Kipchoge and Vivian Cheruiyot spring to mind.

Their forerunners, Hezekiah Kipchoge Keino, Naftali Bon, Nyantika Maiyoro and Tecla Chemabwai Sang did not venture to the roads because, during their time, athletics was largely an amateur affair.

The changing landscape of the sport has however, forced many Kenyan athletes to skirt around track running to where the money is — the roads.

Speaking to Standard Sport, two-time Olympic winner and legend, Kip Keino, acknowledged Kenyans have mastered the roads because that is where the bacon is as far as athletics is concerned.

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“In our days, we ran from 800m to the Mile because running was amateur. Today, more of our youth are going to the roads for two reasons.

“One, we don’t have many tracks where they can train and more are practising on open roads or trails.

“Secondly, these days, road races are paying well as compared to our days where only Europeans were interested in those events and there was no money,” the former National Olympics Committee of Kenya (NOC-K) president said.

Moses Tanui, a former 10,000m and half marathon world champion who transitioned to win the Boston Marathon, declared the current situation a ‘national disaster’ for local athletes in spite of the celebrated excellence of Kenyan roadrunners.

“There is no one advising the youth today (on the dangers of road running early) and it appears as if athletics as we know it is being finished. When you construct a house, you cannot start with the roof,” the Tokyo 1991 world champion stressed.

“The IAAF (World Athletics) should consider bringing back the 10,000m and 5,000m back to the Diamond League because they are Olympic races.

Boston Marathon winner

“Africans have been dominating long distances and Europeans short races so I don’t understand why they are removing them unless they want to kill athletics,” the 1996 and 1998 Boston marathon winner added.

“In 1975, no Kenyan had run a marathon time below 2hrs 20 minutes, compared to a time accomplished by 23 British runners and 34 US athletes.

“By 2005, only 12 Britons and 34 US runners had done a sub 2: 20 compared to 490 Kenyans,” according to Running With Kenyans by Adharanand Finn.

From then on, Kenyans have not only gone to totally dominate road races from Ndakaini to New York but as it stands, they hold all World Athletics recognised records (except two) for both male and female from 10 kilometres to the marathon.

This is an unprecedented feat with Ethiopia’s Netsanet Gudeta who owns the women’s only half marathon standard of 1:06:11 (set on March 24, 2018) the only exception.

However, Joyceline Jepkosgei is acknowledged as the world record holder at the distance having clocked 1:04:51 at the Valencia Half on October 22, 2017 in a mixed race.

In fact, Brigid Kosgei who went on to smash the 16-year women’s marathon record in Chicago in October has run much faster than Jepkosgei and Gudeta when she uncorked 1:04:28 at the Great North Run in Newcastle on September 8, 2019.

Although it is the fastest time ran by a woman over the half marathon, the time was run at a course with conditions that assist the athlete (downhill, favouring wind, point to point).

Astonishingly, all Kenyan road running records have been ran inside the last 10 years, with the men 10km standard of 26:44 ran on September 26, 2010 by Leonard Patrick Komon at the Singelloop in Netherlands the oldest.

Other Kenyan standard bearers are Eliud Kipchoge (men marathon, 2:01:39), Geoffrey Kamworor (men half marathon, 58:01), Joyciline Jepkosgei (women 10km, 29:43) and Mary Keitany (women only marathon 2:17:01).

Kipchoge further holds the distinction of covering the 42.195km marathon distance faster than any human being when he ran his insane 1:59:40.2 at the INEOS 159 challenge in Vienna, Austria on October 12, 2019.

Unlike Kipchoge, who is a throwback to a previous era as far as distance running is concerned in Kenya, his compatriots have opted to master the roads to eke out a living in what is fast becoming a crowded field.

The recent World Athletics announcement that it was removing steeplechase from the 2020 Diamond League roster is a case in point, coming in the wake of the removal of the 5000m and 10000m distances the previous year.

 

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