Yes. It is routine but the Kenyan government and it’s sycophants at KA are squirming under pressure from Ethiopia, especially as their northern neighbours achieved unprecedented dominance at the recent world cross-country championships in Edinburgh March, 08.
As a mate of mine just wrote to me from Kenya:
"Just so much about politics and so little about helping the athletes succeed.
"The coaches will be trying to outdo each other flogging the guys to death. The more mature guys will know when and how to make a stand, but the younger blokes will come out in worse shape than they went in. As if these elite athletes don’t have coaches and individual programs already in place to optimise their chances. Just farcical!
“The same guys who were crying out against this sort of rubbish end up perpetrating it when they get into these KA roles.”
CF. FORUM is essentially supported by those with an interest in sprints, but this New York Times report on the impact the recent post-election violence has had on Kenya’s distance runners is a significant on-the-spot report. KK
By JERÉ LONGMAN
Published: May 13, 2008
ELDORET, Kenya — When Luke Kibet won the world marathon championship last August, he became a favorite to achieve what no Kenyan has despite this country’s distance-running brilliance — an Olympic gold medal in the 26.2-mile race.
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Walter Astrada/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
The post-election strife left about 1,200 people dead, including the 1988 Olympian Lucas Sang, and forced several hundred thousand to flee.
With the Summer Games in Beijing approaching in August, though, Kibet’s Olympic hopes have grown remote. He and many of Kenya’s majestic runners — including dozens of Olympic contenders — had their lives disrupted by the ethnic violence that followed a disputed presidential election last December. About 1,200 people were killed, and several hundred thousand fled their homes.
Among those killed were Lucas Sang, a quarter-miler who competed in the 1988 Summer Olympics, and Wesley Ngetich, an elite marathon runner. On Dec. 31, during rioting here in the Rift Valley, Kibet was hit in the head with a stone and knocked unconscious. He sustained a concussion and stopped training for two weeks. In February, he pulled out a pistol to extricate himself from another potential attack.
Kibet said these events left him traumatized, unable to focus on his training. Then he pulled a hamstring, the direct result, he says, of interrupted training. Last month, Kibet finished a disappointing 11th at the London Marathon — seven minutes off the pace.
He has been named an alternate to the Kenyan Olympic marathon team, but his chance of competing in Beijing will now depend on whether another runner drops out.
“When you see people die, it stays in your mind,” Kibet, 25, said at his home.
The workout regimens of many of Kenya’s elite runners were disrupted in January and February. Some runners received death threats. Many remained indoors for a week or more, afraid to leave their homes. Others left the country to train in more hospitable environments.
Meanwhile, the reputation of the country’s runners as peaceful ambassadors was also dealt a blow. An international monitoring agency reported in February that some Kenyan runners, many with military backgrounds, might have participated in the violence, and could have lent financial aid and transportation assistance to tribal militias.
The chaos has since abated. In mid-April, the government formed a national unity cabinet. Yet it is too soon to know whether the ethnic strife and training disruptions will affect Kenya’s medal chances at the Beijing Olympics.
Kenya won no gold medals, and only a pair of bronzes, at the world indoor track championships in March, while its distance-running rival, Ethiopia, won three golds and six medals over all. Ethiopia also swept all four individual races at the world cross-country championships in March. Kenya won team titles in the men’s senior and junior divisions, but it failed to win an individual event for the first time in more than 20 years.
The news has been far more encouraging on the marathon front. Although Kibet has struggled, his fellow Kenyans won the top three international spring marathons in Boston, London and Rotterdam. And David Rudisha, a teenage sensation, ran the world’s fastest time of the year — 1 minute 44.20 seconds — in winning the 800 meters at the African championships this month in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Such accomplishments indicate that the violence ended early enough for Kenya’s runners to prepare for Beijing, Kenyan Olympic and track officials said.
“A super performance will let the world know we are still a powerhouse in athletics,” said David Okeyo, secretary general of the Kenyan track and field federation.
Most of Kenya’s elite runners belong to the Kalenjin tribe and live in and around this regional center in the Rift Valley, with its moderate climate and altitude of nearly 7,000 feet. This was also the site of some of the most incendiary post-election violence.
Kenya’s president, Mwai Kibaki, a member of the Kikuyu tribe, which has long held political and economic dominance, won re-election last December amid charges of ballot-rigging. The Kalenjins backed the opposition candidate, Raila Odinga, a member of the Luo tribe, who later became prime minister in a power-sharing agreement. When Odinga lost, this normally tranquil country exploded.
Published: May 13, 2008
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A church was burned in a village outside Eldoret on New Year’s Day. As many as 50 people died after being trapped inside. Distance running, which along with safari tourism gives Kenya much of its international recognition, became for a time frivolous and dangerous.
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Sarah Elliott for The New York Times
A training group in Iten, outside Eldoret, Kenya. Dozens of Olympic contenders had their training disrupted by violence.
The New York Times
Eldoret, home to many elite runners, had some of the most incendiary violence.
Magdaline Chemjor, who won the 2007 Amsterdam Marathon, told an often-repeated story of how roadblocks interrupted her running routes. She tried to continue training by hiding in the forests, then stopped altogether for two weeks in January.
“People would say, ‘Why are you running when others are being killed?’ ” Chemjor said. “I was just praying that everything would go away. This is my job.”
Lucia Kimani, a Kikuyu, needed a police escort to the airport here from nearby Iten so that she could fly out to compete in the Dubai Marathon in January. Catherine Ndereba, the 2004 Olympic silver medalist in the women’s marathon, holed up in her house outside Nairobi, the capital, for a week in January while her sister brought her food.
Extra security was provided in March as the Kenyan team gathered in the central town of Embu to train for the world cross-country championships. Embu is a Kikuyu area, and some Kalenjin runners, fearful of being attacked, accepted psychological counseling, said Elias Makori, sports editor of The Daily Nation, Kenya’s largest newspaper.
“They had to be talked to to make sure everything was O.K. with their lives,” Makori said.
Two of the world’s best marathoners, Robert Cheruiyot and Martin Lel, were among a group of runners whose manager received a threatening e-mail message: “We know where they live and what cars they drive.”
Cheruiyot and Lel left Kenya in late January and trained for weeks in Namibia before returning home after the violence subsided.
Last month, Cheruiyot won the Boston Marathon for the fourth time, and Lel won his third London Marathon. Both were named to Kenya’s Olympic team.
“After the election, they couldn’t train properly,” said Federico Rosa, an Italian who manages the two. “There was daily killing. It was almost a civil war. So we made a plan to train outside, to avoid any problems.”
Moses Kiptanui, a 1996 Olympic silver medalist and former world-record holder in the 3,000-meter steeplechase, said he was threatened by police officers here who accused him of transporting fuel to be used for burning houses. He was only transporting the fuel for use on his farm, Kiptanui said, adding that the threats made him wary enough to “make sure I’m always in the right place at the right time.”
The suggestion that some Kenyan runners were enablers of the violence emerged publicly in February in a report by the International Crisis Group, an independent, nongovernment organization that seeks to prevent and resolve conflict.
The crisis group noted that athletes had become community leaders and had grown wealthy with their earnings from international races, buying farmland and other real estate. Their motivation for providing cash and transportation to tribal militias was partly economic, the report said.
“They allegedly want the Kikuyus evicted so they can take their farms and property,” the report said.
Many athletes are also members of the armed forces or are prison officers and are sponsored by these groups. Most accounts of the death of Sang, the 1988 Olympian and a former army corporal, “suggest he met his death on the outskirts of Eldoret while commanding part of a Kalenjin raiding party,” the report said.
François Grignon, the director of African operations for the crisis group, said influential leaders like athletes would have faced tremendous pressure to become involved when ethnic conflict threatened Kenyan society.
“Athletes, like doctors and lawyers, were asked to contribute and help in the defense of their community,” Grignon said. “They would have been perceived as traitors if they didn’t participate.”
The report infuriated Kenyan sports officials and athletes, who are demanding proof of the accusations. Sang’s friends said he was stoned to death and burned after stopping his car to observe a building fire.
Published: May 13, 2008
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“Those are nonsense,” Kipchoge Keino, president of Kenya’s Olympic committee and a two-time Olympic gold medalist, said of the crisis group’s accusations. “We want the evidence now. It’s not true. It’s hurting the names of the athletes who have dedicated themselves to bettering their lives and running for the glory of the country.”
Luke Kibet basked in that glory after winning the marathon at the 2007 world track and field championships in Osaka, Japan. The race was run in hot, humid conditions, similar to those expected in Beijing. He became an early Olympic favorite. When Kibet returned to Eldoret, he was given a welcoming ceremony from the airport to his father’s house.
By late December, that embrace had vanished. When post-election violence broke out, Kibet was hit in the back of the head with a stone. At the time, he said he was flagging down an ambulance to assist a man who had been shot in the back. Kibet was taken to a hospital, where he received five stitches. He said he saw numerous bodies at the hospital, some of which had been beheaded.
“I saw many things,” Kibet, a Kalenjin, said. “I was afraid to train. I was afraid for my life.”
Kibet said he slept outside for a week in January to protect his house while 15 women and children crowded inside, including his wife and young son and daughter. An inspector in the national prison system, Kibet said he and fellow runners who helped him guard his house were armed with two machine guns.
In February, as Kibet and four other runners drove to Nairobi, armed with pistols, he said they were stopped by Kikuyus who blocked the road with sheep. As a group of men approached his car with machetes, Kibet said he fired his pistol into the air. The crowd dispersed.
Months later, Kibet said he harbored no ill will toward Kikuyus, and said he counted many Kikuyu runners among his friends. He echoed a sentiment held by many runners and officials — that success in Beijing, whether he is there or not — may prove instructive to a country trying to heal itself.
“If people can see Kalenjin and Kikuyus running together, talking together, they might say they can do like that, too,” Kibet said.
I have never yet met an elite athlete who has not fallen out with his/her federation. It’s almost a rite of passage, like getting beaten out of sight in one of your first competitions, and knowing you’ve really got to knuckle down and train hard if you’re going to make it. Or at a simpler level, ie that of you and me, it’s like getting roaring drunk on your first weekend at college, and learning from your mistake. Or in some cases, maybe not. As for the federations themselves, do they ever learn from their mistakes? Almost certainly not. Take the Kenyan federation! A group of men (it’s almost always men) who think Athletics Kenya is run for their benefit. And without going into too much fine financial detail, very often that has been the case.
Athletics Kenya’s record on dealings with the massive pool of talent that constitutes Kenyan athletics is so poor that these so-called leaders are treated with contempt by most right-thinking people, which certainly includes the athletes, and in the majority of cases, their managers. But, given that AK holds the strings of selectorial power, most athletes and their managers try to keep them happy. It doesn’t always work, and some of their selections, non-selections and de-selections of the past have given the impression that they are trying to ensure that their athletes don’t win too many medals at Olympic and world level. In short, forward planning is not one of their strong points.
Well, some things never change. And an email sent out today (May 14) to a range of international managers (‘Athletes Representatives’ in new-speak) illustrates the arrogance and lack of joined-up thinking that typifies the Athletics Kenya leadership. I reproduce in full the letter from Isiah Kiplagat, chair of Athletics Kenya, while pointing out that this is the first that any of the managers that I spoke to today knew of this.
To all athletes Representatives
RE: RELEASE OF ATHLETES TO THE TRAINING CAMP IN ELDORET
Following the announcement that a training camp is set up in Eldoret with effect from 20th May 2008, all athletes under your Management are required to report to the camp without exceptions.Any athlete who does not report will be excluded from the Olympic Trials, and agents suspended. For any competition outside the country during training will be cleared by the coaches.We also require both your training and competition programme for athletes under your management.
Please ensure these instructions are adhered to without fail.
Looking forward to your co-operation
So, scores of athletes, who have recently flown to Europe, to prepare for the early season meetings, prior to their selection trials, are in effect commanded, instructed, ordered (take your pick) to up sticks, and come back IMMEDIATELY. Or else! This is reminiscent of the first time AK tried to negotiate with athletes’ managers, back in 1991. They summoned them to a meeting in Nairobi. At a day’s notice! With a similar threat to ban them if they didn’t turn up. From as far afield as north and south America, and Australasia.
For obvious reasons, theatened above, no manager I spoke to today wanted to be quoted by name, because they did not doubt that the threat to ban them for any criticism would be enforced. But one ‘Athletes Representative’ summed up the feelings of the seeveral I canvassed when s/he said, “Firstly, I can’t be quoted, because my mother would be very unhappy at the language I used. Also, these people are so stupid and arrogant that they would try to ban anyone for criticising them. If they got any stupider, they couldn’t get out of bed in the morning.
“They will do their damnedest to stop the athletes winning anything. Because it’s not only their ridiculous decisions, it’s that they’ll put the athletes into the hands of coaches, who are atrocious, who haven’t got a clue. The coaching is so poor at federation level, that this is an imbecile decision. We work for 11 months of the year, trying to prepare the athletes properly, to take care of them, nurture their injuries, publicise their careers, and these idiots, inside one month every year, they try their best to ruin the athletes. Now they want to do it for three months, and in an Olympic year as well”.
Until the recent elections, and unprecedented riots which followed, Kenya had long been an example of good governance to the rest of Africa. As neighbour, Haile Gebrselassie commented when he heard of the problems, “We always thought Kenya was the most stable, if this could happen in Kenya, it could happen anywhere in Africa”. Well, Athletics Kenya doesn’t even have the tradition of having been an example of good governance. It’s always been a hotbed of incompetence, arrogance and corruption. And it just got worse!
This entry was posted on Wednesday, May 14th, 2008 at 11:18 pm and is filed under Latest. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
One Response to “ATHLETICS KENYA”
May 15th, 2008 at 5:22 pm
I concur that AK is quiet undeplomatic in the way they deal with managers .But on the other hand iam a kenyan and year in year out we have been accustomed to our athletes performing well in money races and under performing at championships especially the olympic.Kenyans believe that the managers out there simply enter the athletes in toomay races so as to make money for their companies while not caring about them burning out.A very good example of such a manager is Jos Herman who through what i have just explained reduced Eliud kipchoge from the hither to top-notch athlete to the now second-class 5000m runner.Enough is enough from kenyans point of view ;we can live with accepting that our local coaches are stupid and incapable if our athletes fail when they have been training them for three months than keep on having to bear with foreign coaches and managers exploiting our runners and simply availing them to kenya for olympics when they have burned out.So yeah It is time that foreing managers are put back in their place.As i said kenyans agree that whether this strategy work or not atleast we will know exactly whether infact these foreing managers do infact hinder our athletes performing to their fullest potential in the championships.
I red that 199 athletes are “invited” to this camp. Kenyan Olympic comitee will provide founds for this camp, 2 millions kenyan shillings - about 21,000 euro.
This is barely 100 euro per athlete (well, nto sure the money will go to the athletes actually).
How long is that training camp?