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Covid poses threat to judo athletes Olympics mission

Kenya's Judo Carlos Ochieng and James Wambua fighting it out during training session at Kamiti Maximum Prison on Monday, April 19, 2021. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

Social distancing protocol is proving a major hindrance to Kenya’s judo team that is currently preparing for the final two Olympic qualifications.

Judo is a combatant sport with direct contact between players.

Kenya’s top-ranked judoka James Irungu needs 200 points to qualify for the Summer Olympics in Japan.

But Irungu’s dream of taking part in the Tokyo Games is being stalled by the health regulations that prohibits close body contact between two or more individuals.

“We have so many challenges. Sometimes we are forced to call off the training because of the stringent measures,” Kenyan team coach Isaac Kinyanjui bemoaned, adding that the government regulation even forced the technical team to truncate the number of players from 15 to seven.

Irungu is expected to lead the Kenyan team to the Africa Championship, to be staged between May 18-23, in Dakar, Senegal where the country will be seeking a ticket to Japan.

This event was moved from Morocco due to the current lockdown in the North African country, and the pandemic is one of the greatest fears that Irungu is facing as he prepares for the two remaining qualifiers.

Kenya will send a strong team to the Dakar event and those who might not be lucky enough will have second and final chance of grabbing the Olympic tickets at the World Championship in Budapest, Hungary later in June.

Of great concern for Irungu, the Africa Bronze medalist who pulled 218 points in Madagascar at the last Africa Championship, is the suspension of sport in the country, something that he says has derailed his Olympic preparation.

“If we get a chance to participate in the two events, then I think we can qualify,” Irungu told KTN News.

“We’ve not yet attained the required points due to the suspension of sporting activities because of Covid-19 and we took too much time as a country to restart the games.

“I would be so happy if I can qualify for the Olympics because judo is not a famous sport in the country and the Olympics will give us that chance to advertise it to fans locally” added Irungu who has been in the sport since 2005.

Irungu has a wealth of experience, participated at the Commonwealth Games, All Africa Games and a couple of Grand Slams. His last assignment was at the last Africa Championship in Madagascar, where he won bronze, Kenya’s best medal in judo so far.

Irungu admits that the Covid-19 situation has impacted on the sports negatively considering that he has less than three months to attain the mark.

Duncan Chemiryo, Kenya judo Team Manager emphasised the impact of the pandemic on their preparation that even forced Kenya to pull out of the Russia Championship that was supposed to take part in the first week of May.

“It is really challenging, but we are trying to see if we can travel to Senegal, then to Budapest in early June.

We are still trying to see if world judo will give us more events for qualification because it affects almost all the countries in the world,” said Chemiryo.

Chemiryo hopes that at least four players will qualify from the Africa and World Championships.


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