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Over 30 athletics 'exports' return to haunt Kenya in Rio Olympics

SPORTS By Jonathan Komen | August 16th 2016
19-year-old Ruth Jebet gets Bahrain's first ever gold by winning the Women's 3000m steeplechase. The 2016 Rio Olympics is simply a Kenya-versus- former Kenyans affair – with most ‘exports’ lining up on the track races. (PHOTO:COURTESY)

Kenya has ‘exported’ huge athletics talent, and it emerged as no surprise when Bahrain’s Ruth Jebet won 3,000m gold medal in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, last evening. 

It was left to Hyvin Kiyeng to save Kenya’s blushes with a hard-won silver, bringing our medal tally on Day 11 of the competition to four (one gold and three silvers).

And the 2016 Rio Olympics is simply a Kenya-versus- former Kenyans affair – with most ‘exports’ lining up on the track races.

But their move to switch nationality has seen their adopted nations claim a fair share of Kenya’s athletics glory in the sporting world. From USA’s former world champion Bernard Lagat, Turkey’s Mike Kigen to Bahraini constellation of world-beating stars that include 2014 world junior 3,000m steeplechase champion Ruth Jebet and newly crowned Olympic marathon bronze Eunice Kirwa.

There is no love lost when Kenyans, often used to signalling each other with Kalenjin word ‘Ngebe’ (let’s break away), devise new tactics to counter the growing number of Kenyans donning flags of their adopted nations. They switch nationality in the quest for money, fame and even in search of love – others get married.

More than 30 Kenyan-born athletes are lined up for races in Rio de Janeiro, with Turkey and Bahrain accounting for the highest numbers. The US, Israel and Bosnia have claimed a slice of glory, thanks to Kenya’s talent glut.

Ruth Jebet, who hails from Kosirai in Nandi County and completed Form Four at Nairobi’s Riruta Central in 2013, yesterday made a strong statement about Kenya’s athletics ‘exports’ as she cruised to victory in women’s 3,000m steeplechase race. Bahrain had John Koech and Nelson Cherutich (3,000m steeplechase) and marathoners Eunice Chumba and Eunice Kirwa, who won silver on Sunday.

Benson Kiplagat Seurei, the son of 1987 All Africa Games 1,500m champion James Seurei, will take on three-time world 1,500m champion Asbel Kiprop in 1,500m round one today. Seurei said he opted to change his citizenship as it was hard to make the cut in Kenya.

Changed citizenship

“In Kenya, there is plenty of talent and some of us think we should utilise our talent elsewhere,” he said. Ozbilen, fondly known as Kigen, said: “I have trained in Kaptagat alongside Eliud (Kipchoge), Ugandan Stephen Kiprotich and Wesley Korir for some time and hope to do well.”

He said competing against Kenyans was a pleasure since most of them were his friends and the change of citizenship had not affected their friendship.

Abraham Rotich (800m) and Albert Rop (5,000m), are other Kenyans-turned-Bahraini in Rio. Rose Chelimo, Isaac Korir and Abraham Cheroben (10,000m) are other ex-Kenyans in Team Bahrain.

Lucy Kimani is the only former Kenyan in the Bosnian squad while Lonah Chemtai competed for Israel in the women’s marathon. Turkey, the new market for Kenyan athletic talent, has six Kenyan ‘exports’ in Rio. They include reigning European 10,000m champion Yasemin Can, formerly Vivian Jemutai, and Tarik Langat Akdag, whose birth name is Patrick Kipkirui Langat, who fell in the men’s 3,000m steeplechase heats yesterday.

Others are Ali Kaya (formerly Stanley Kiprotich) who will race in 5,000m after lining up in 10,000m and Ilham Tanui Ozbilen (William Biwott Tanui) who will line up 1,500m round one contest today.

Meryem Akda (Miriam Jepchirchir) competed for Turkey in the women marathon. At 41, Bernard Lagat anchors four other former Kenyans who changed their allegiance to the USA. They include Paul Chelimo (5,000m), Hillary Bor (3,000m steeplechase), Leonard Korir and Shadrack Kipchirchir (both 10,000m).

Evans Kiplagat, the reigning Seoul Marathon champion, has changed his nationality to Azerbaijan.

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