What happened to Kenya's marathon team in Budapest?

Participants compete in the Men's Marathon at the World Athletics Championships in Budapest, Hungary, Aug. 27, 2023. [Xinhua]

In the final days of the 2023 World Championships, fingers were crossed for medals and continued dominance in the marathon like it has happened in city marathons across the world but no Kenyan 42km racer made it to the podium.

From harsh weather conditions in Budapest to intrigues in the naming of the marathon squad for the global showpiece, questions abound.

During the naming of the marathon on June 14, Athletics Kenya (AK) said road racers who had earlier been picked to represent the country at the just concluded Budapest World Championships pulled out to set sights on well-oiled marathons.

Observers say the world marathon show was the poorest in Kenya’s recent performance in the global championship.

Last year in Eugene, Judith Korir won silver for Kenya in the women’s marathon, with the men’s team failing to secure a medal.

In the women’s category, Kenya last won a marathon gold medal at the World Championships in 2019 Doha through Ruth Chepng’etich but was unable to defend the title in 2022.

Geoffrey Kirui brought home gold in 2019 and Amos Kipruto took the bronze in 2019.

A tentative list on June 2 comprised the world’s second fastest marathoner Kelvin Kiptum (the reigning London 42km race champion) and double New York City Marathon champion Geoffrey Kamworor.

The big names, initially fashioned as the Budapest23 dream squad were missing in the mid-June list unveiled in Eldoret.

Commonwealth 10,000m bronze medallist Sheila Chepkirui and the women’s marathon world record holder Brigid Kosgei were also on the tentative list but conspicuously missed from the squad that represented the nation.

AK first Vice President and Competitions Director Paul Mutwii took issue with athletes who chose to take part in well-paying marathons during the naming of the selected team.

Mutwii said a number of top long-distance runners who had been asked to lead the Budapest assignment declined to take up the patriotic role and instead chose to take part in other races.

He said he was happy that the team that had represented Kenya in the just concluded World Championships had gladly accepted to fly the country’s flag.

“If our top athletes chose other races instead of representing the country, it is not a good thing. Our athletes should sacrifice for the sake of the country. We are glad because the newly selected team has agreed to fly our country’s flag in Budapest,” Mutwii said.

The Competition Director continued: “Some highly ranked athletes declined our requests for them to represent Kenya. We didn’t pressurise them (after they declined) because maybe the World Championships does not pay well like the World Marathon Majors such as Berlin and Boston among others.”

After the world marathon contest, legends raised questions about the team’s preparations.

Two-time world marathon champion Catherine Ndereba said the Kenyan marathon team to Budapest lacked mental strength and employed poor tactics in their battle to continue Kenyan dominance in the 42km road race.

“Running is more mental than physical. If you are not mentally ready, it will be difficult to compete with a mentally prepared marathoner. There is also the issue of conditioning,” Ndereba told the national broadcaster, KBC.

The legendary athlete, a four-time Boston Marathon champion added: “Team Kenya officials should have known the (weather) conditions to expect (in Budapest) and could have appropriately advised the athletes. They should have prepared the athletes for the conditions during training.”

According to Ndereba the World Marathon team should have been prepared on proper hydration during the race.

Yesterday, sports expert Dr Byron Kipchumba took issue with athletics managements in the county, saying they might have influenced decisions by some athletes to pull out of Team Kenya to Budapest.

He said it was not possible for athletes to take up an assignment to run for their country, only to pull out later.

“We are not saying that the marathon team that represented Kenya in Budapest was a weak team. The women’s team was experienced but it might not have been tactically prepared for the assignment. The men’s team was good but was not the best for Kenya in terms of experience,” the sports expert told Standard Sports.

He went ahead to say: “Managers might have controlled the original team. The weather in Budapest did not favour Kenyan men and women. There is need to establish whether the Kenyan marathon coaches knew about the conditions in Budapest. We saw the 5000m races being moved from daytime to evening, meaning the temperatures were high, and that (high temperatures) may have played against the Kenyan team.”

The men’s marathon was won by Victor Kiplangat of Uganda and Israeli Maru Teferi took silver. Leul Gebresilase of Ethiopia won a bronze.

The first Kenyan, Titus Kipruto placed eighth and Timothy Kiplagat came in 14th while Joshua Belet did not finish the marathon.

Tokyo Marathon champion Rosemary Wanjiru finished sixth in the women’s world marathon won by Ethiopia’s Amane Shankule. She was followed by Selly Kaptich (7th).

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