World 10,000m silver medallist Waithaka: How living in Japan has shaped my athletics career

Kenyan Edward Zakayo (gold) and Stanley Waithaka (silver) celebrates their victory during the 5000m final in Tampere, Finland.[Dennis Okeyo, Standard]

For many generations, Kenyan has continued to churn out global medallists and world record-breakers in distance running, a tradition that the country will still hold for the next decades as a new crop of runners take up the mantle from their predecessors.

In July, Stanley Waithaka produced a powerful kick to ensure Kenya won silver medal at the World Championships in Eugene, Oregon in the men's 10,000m finals and this was after falling and picking up an injury at the start of the race.

Uganda's Joshua Cheptegei won the gold with his fellow countryman Jacob Kiplimo bagging bronze.

It has been an impressive run for the athlete who hit global athletics scene in 2017 during the Under-18 World Championships in Nairobi when he clinched 3,000m bronze medal behind Ethiopian's Selemon Barega and compatriot Edward Zakayo.

At the 2018 Under-20 World Championships in Tampere, Finland, Waithaka won a silver medal for Kenya behind Zakayo then moved to Japan where he is working for Yakult corporate team in Tokyo.

The 22-year-old Waithaka hails from Ndaragwa, Nyandarua County where he picked up running while still a primary school student at Raichiri Primary School.

"I started developing interest in athletics while in class seven. My elder sister Rebecca Muthoni had great influence in me, she was actively involved in athletics while in high school, she used to travel to many places so I challenged myself to follow in her footsteps and do well so that I can as well travel and see the world world.

"My younger sister Rose Waithira has also picked up the sport and I can see a bright future for her in athletics," Waithaka said.

"I went to Raichiri Secondary School in Ndaragwa where I participated in national school games. While in high school, that's when I decided to take running as a career under the guidance of coach Frances Kamau."

In November 2018, just months after moving to Japan, Waithaka ran the fastest 10,000m race of that year when he clocked 27:13.01 at the Yokohama Nittai University Time trials.

"Moving to Japan really gave me a different perspective about life. The difference in culture and lifestyle really shaped my thinking, I'm glad I adopted the lifestyle pretty fast. While in Japan, I realised running is not about long run training and endurance, a lot is involved in the sport.

"I have to visit the sport science laboratory twice a year for body screening to ensure that I'm in good shape and if there are challenges to be made or improved on before the competitions," he said.

Gold medalist Joshua Cheptegei, of Uganda, center, stands with silver medalist Stanley Waithaka Mburu, of Kenya, left and bronze medalist Jacob Kiplimo, of Uganda, during a medal ceremony for the at the World Athletics Championships on Sunday, July 17, 2022, in Eugene, Ore. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

Waithaka who works for Yakult, the world's leading probiotics beverage that produces; fermented milk that contains the bacteria strain, cosmetics, pharmacology among other products promises a brighter future in men's 10,000m event despite Kenyans have failed to win gold in event since 2001.

Kenya has three gold medals in the event, Paul Kipkoech (1987), Moses Tanui (1991) and Charles Kamathi (2001) while Ethiopia has been dominant with nine gold medals in Haile Gebreselassie (1993, 1995, 1997 and 1999), Kenenisa Bekele (2003, 2005, 2007 and 2009) and Ibrahim Jeilan in 2011. Britain boasts three titles from Mo Farah's wins in 2013, 2015 and 2017.

"It's true Kenya is not doing well in 5,000m and 10,000m. In my own observation, the athletes and coaches are using old tactics and lack of teamwork which are the main ingredients for failure. Lots of science applications are needed, the new generation of coaches are starting to embrace modern methods of training and I believe the new crop of athletes will deliver great results probably in Hungary next year or Paris Olympics in 2024," Waithaka said.

Waithaka, who idolises Augustin Choge, the 2006 Commonwealth Games 5000m champion believes he will improve on his Oregon silver medal as he looks forward to Paris 2024 Games.

"I'm optimistic that I will improve on my silver medal in Budapest, Hungary with my ultimate challenge being the 2024 Paris Olympics Games. Oregon World Championships being my first senior championships, I'm satisfied with the result but promise to improve on it," he said.

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