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What lessons did we pick from Tokyo?

ATHLETICS By Bismarck Mutahi in Tokyo, Japan | August 9th 2021
Women marathon gold medallist Peres Jepchirchir of Kenya celebrates on the podium. [Reuters]

Kenyans might have finished the Tokyo Olympics in 19th overall position with four gold, four silver and two bronze medals, but what stood out is that the world has caught up with us.

It was at the Tokyo Olympics Stadium that Kenya lost the 3,000m men steeplechase title, something that had never happened in the last 41 years.

But for many in the athletics circles to say they did not see this coming would burying their heads in the sand.

The fact that the outgoing Olympics champion Conseslus Kipruto won the world title title by the thickness of his vest during the 2019 World Championships in Doha, Qatar should have been a loud message for Kenya that men’s steeplechase was no longer a given medal for the country.

World Athletics boss Seb Coe may have insisted that the race was Kenya’s event to lose, but he also warned that Kenyans need to watch out.

“The world is catching up on countries that thought they were untouchable in particular events. That, however, is good news to me as an athletics boss,” Coe said while addressing journalists from African during the Olympic Games.

When all is said and done, Tokyo 2020 was not the worse performance by any stretch of imagination by Team Kenya even though the team that went to Rio for the games five years ago still stands out.

Team Kenya delegation to Rio came back with six gold, six silver and one bronze medal and finished in 15th overall position, which means in terms of ranking, the team to Tokyo only dropped one place.

In the track and field table in Tokyo, Kenya finished third behind the United States of America and Italy.

Several athletes complained about injuries, lack of coaches and other administrative issues and while those might not have been the main factors that denied us some gold medals in Tokyo, we hope Athletics Kenya will wake up and smell the coffee.

They should take seriously the fact that other countries are catching up and we need to change our ways of doing things.

They might take solace in the fact that it is not only Kenya that is losing ground in athletics as we witnessed USA and Jamaica also falling behind while Ethiopia could only win one gold medal, but we can’t sit pretty and say that our main rivals are also falling.

Tokyo Olympics was full of shocking results like Italy finishing ahead of Jamaica and Ethiopia in the track and Field events with USA men winning only one gold medal on the track.

That should be a warning to Kenya that with Uganda also winning the women steeplechase for the first time, a medal Kenya has not lost since 2008, there is need to relook our ways of doing things very fast.

But of more concern though and just like in Rio, is that all Kenyan medallists once again came from the track and field events which begs the questions, when will other disciplines begin bringing the medals at the Olympics like the late Robert Napunyi Wangila did on the boxing ring in 1988 in Seoul, South Korea.

Yesterday, during the closing ceremony, Kenya once again basked in the glory of having the national anthem played at the Olympics Stadium thanks to marathon gold medallist Eliud Kipchoge.

On a positive note on the other disciplines though, the national volleyball team Malkia Strikers, showed the world that they are not far off from being invited to the top table of volleyball at the Olympics.

The African queens might have lost all their matches and exited the tournament from the group stage, but the nature of their performance was encouraging and it is something that should be built on for future assignments.

The sad fact about that though is that the players have gone back home and will soon be playing league matches for their clubs in outdoor courts, which will be puling back the gains that were made in Tokyo.

Assistant coach Paul Bitok had called for a complete change from how things are done especially in the local league if Malkia Strikers are to continue improving, but might not happen going by what we have seen in the past.

For the beach volleyball pair of Gaudencia Makokha and Brackcides Agala, it was their first time at the Olympics, but they left Tokyo praying that there will be facilities back home to nurture young players.

Whether anyone will care to listen to their message is another thing. The 2024 Olympics in Paris is not ages away and if we don’t heed what the coaches want, then we might perform even worse in the French capital.

In boxing, the other discipline that was in Tokyo, the less said, the better. That all Kenyan boxers were eliminated after only one match each must have left Wangila turning in his grave.

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