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How depression almost shattered Kenya's medals dream in Tokyo

ATHLETICS By Rodgers Eshitemi | August 31st 2021
Tokyo 2020 Olympics - Athletics - Women's 3000m Steeplechase - Final - Olympic Stadium, Tokyo, Japan - August 4, 2021. Hyvin Kiyeng of Kenya in action [Reuters, Dylan Martinez]

Team Kenya General Manager at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics Barnaba Korir has revealed how a section of Kenyan athletes almost suffered depression due to pressure and negative comments from fans on social media.

Just like in Tokyo where Kenya had a slow start to the competition, Kenyan youngsters had to endure some pressure from social media at the recently concluded World Athletics U20 Championships at Kasarani Stadium.

But on both occasions, the Kenyan athletes shrugged off negative publicity to finish top in Africa on medal standings in Tokyo (10 medals) while the youngsters retained the World Athletics U20 Championships title after bagging 16 medals.

The pressure started when Kenya lost both men and women’s 3000m steeplechase races in Tokyo. Kenya had won nine straight Olympic gold medals in men’s 3000 steeplechase since 1980 before Moroccan Soufiane El Bakkali ended their dominance in what had been considered their traditional stronghold after Kenya’s best performer in the race Benjamin Kigen settled third for bronze.

It was the same scenario in the women’s category where 2016 silver medallist Hyvin Kiyeng finished third behind winner Peruth Chemutai of Uganda.

Kenya then struggled in women’s 5000m race after 2016 champion Hellen Obiri lost her title to Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands. Obiri settled for silver.

However, while appearing on Standard Group’s Tikitaka Digital Show on Friday, Korir who is also the AK Nairobi Region Chairman and Director for Youth Development, urged Kenyans to borrow a leaf from their European counterparts who always stand by their athletes at all times.

“We didn’t do well on the first day in Tokyo and that attracted a lot of negative publicity from Kenyans, but God is great,” said Korir. “It was the same thing when we hosted the World U20. It was really hectic after we lost the race on the first day.”

“As a former athlete, I know the pressure these athletes go through. The demands are unimaginable, but I would really feel comfortable if that pressure is equated to what we are putting in building them.”

“In Tokyo, Hyvin Kiyeng was under immense pressure due to the negative comments that were being made on social media.”

And while preparations are in top gear ahead of the Kip Keino Classic Continental Tour slated for September 18 at Kasarani Stadium, Korir, who is the meet’s director, said the second edition gives them a chance to bid for one leg of the coveted Diamond League Series.

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