In Part I of this report, we discussed the good that came out of the previous Olympic games. In Part II, we jump right into
I have to be honest, from the beginning. It’s very difficult to write about the management of athletics in Kenya without getting a bit emotional. So, if I do get a bit abrasive, I offer no apologies. The truth has got to be said.
We treat our athletes, our greatest national heroes and the people who have put us on the global map more than anyone else, like bat droppings. When the Olympic team went to Rio, the level of disorganization was simply staggering. At this point, we are busy pointing fingers at the just disbanded National Olympic Committee, the Ministry of Sports and other bodies, but these are problems that could have been rooted out long before the Olympics came along. Kenya’s track record when it comes to corruption is perhaps as colourful as our record on the running track, and after the saga that nearly led to our disqualification from the Rio 2016 Games for doping, we should have been sufficiently angry. We were not. We let things fester, and the corruption that has infected and festered at the Ministry of Sports, Athletics Kenya and the National Olympic Committee is finally seeping through and dripping it’s smelliness onto our greatest sport.
When will we get sufficiently angry to start demanding proper answers from the people who manage this gracious and amazing sport? Kenyan runners are world beaters. At the moment, the NOC officials have received more headlines and are being talked about more than the actual athletes, whose accolades should far, far outweigh the negative press that these bodies are receiving. The rot that is corruption stinks from here to high heaven, and we should be sick of it. is it any wonder that so many of our runners are opting to become…
2. Kenyans in the Diaspora
The winner of the 3,000m steeplechase at the Olympics was Ruth Jebet, from the Rift Valley. That Olympic gold medal went to, as you probably know already, Bahrain. Many people were frothing in the mouth, branding the several ‘Kenyans’ running in different colours as ‘traitors’. I am not one of them. I feel ashamed, not by those runners, but by us, who have treated our best without the honour they deserve. Kenya’s rugby and football teams are treated much better than our athletes, and yet, let’s be honest, they have achieved nothing in comparison to what our athletes have been doing for decades. I am not saying the other sports don’t deserve to be treated better, I am saying we should be treating our runners with the respect and status they deserve.
Kenyan born Chris Froome, for example, who is the current Tour de France champion and competed for team Great Britain at the recently concluded games, is probably going to be knighted soon. Bernard Lagat, Saif Saaeed Shaheen (formerly Stephen Cherono) and the rest who have gone to seek greener pastures have simply done what’s good for them. If a country refuses to support and honour you, looking for greener pastures makes sense. Jebet, for winning her gold medal, is going to be given over KES 50m by Bahrain, and is assured of an income for life. Not a bad innings for a 19 year old. The absolute worst part is, when Jebet visited her mother at home in Eldoret, she received a warmer welcome at the airport than the entire Kenyan team received upon jetting back to JKIA. Speaking of welcomes…
3. Heroes Unwelcome
I am very tempted to use a cuss word right now. But since I cannot use said word, let’s replace it with the word ‘FISH’. When team GB got back to their home country, they walked off their Chartered British Airways Boeing 747 to a rousing welcome. The airport literally came to a standstill to welcome them home. Same applies to team South Africa – who won fewer medals than we did – with Castor Semenya and co. received heroically at their airport. Same applies to Germany and many other countries.
Did you see the reception Kenya received? Of course you didn’t. You weren’t there. Nobody was! What the FISH was that? The only people that came were a few ‘officials’ – whatever the FISH that means – and the usual sotet (ask your Kalenjin friend what this means) wielding entourage. That’s it. We were the best performing African team. Yes, NUMBER 1. We broke two fishing Olympic records! We had javelin and 400m hurdle medallists, for the love of all that’s good. And yet there was more media coverage when the National Olympic Committee landed than when Sumgong and some others landed. I am ashamed. We should all be ashamed. Our athletes have done nothing wrong. Even the ones who did not perform as expected…
4. Disappointing Acts
There were many athletes and teams that we expected to perform at the games. We all know who did well, but those that did not have been torn apart by the media and on social media, and all I can ask myself is, ‘why’? Asbel Kiprop tops this list for me. This soft spoken, humble and lanky athlete was clearly hurt by the hate he faced, pleading to Kenyans to remember how well he has served us at the international level. This man is a FISHING THREE TIME WORLD CHAMPION AND OLYMPIC GOLD MEDALLIST, people. Yes, I was disappointed too when he got his tactics all muddled up and didn’t achieve a podium finish, especially since I had to wake up earlier than the mother of the early bird that caught the worm that morning. But does anyone who was mad at Asbel understand how hard you have to work just to QUALIFY for the Olympics? This is a man whose success we have celebrated since he was a teenager. We should be bowing down to this man, not being nasty to him!
The same applies to the Seven’s Rugby Team. This is a team that has performed consistently well internationally for the past five years or so, and we, just like with Kiprop, expected a lot more from them. The losses they had in their group stages were bad, but perhaps the manner in which they lost was even worse, suffering heavy defeats against team GB, New Zealand and an inspired Japan. But it does them no good when we criticize them instead of applauding their effort in their games, considering they probably had the toughest draw of all teams at the games.
There was one man, however, who we all looked at as a sure Olympic gold medal, but did not deliver as we expected. In true nature of his character, however, Ezekiel Kemboi delivered all the drama we could expect, and then some.
5. Baba Yao
First, let me address the haircut. Was it horrible? Yes. Did it make me put my face in my palms and groan in utter embarrassment when I saw it? Yes. Did it make me smile? Oh yes.
And here’s why. That was classic Kemboi. He is the most eccentric athlete we’ve ever produced, a joke of a man who absolutely has fun with himself. I absolutely adore the man, from his dancing, to his celebratory antics, to the haircuts…he is an icon. Most especially, he is quite simply the greatest steeplechase runner Kenya has ever had. While he is yet to beat Shaheen’s world record, it’s not because he has not tried to before. it’s because for him it’s all about the win, and nothing about breaking records. He’s famous for finishing his races in the outermost lane, therefore covering a larger distance, just so he can entertain us with that ridiculous dance that he often has.
A few days before the Rio steeplechase final, he reportedly had been taunting youngster Consenslus Kipruto, claiming that the gold medal was his. Credit to the 21 year old, he beat his older compatriot and broke the Olympic record while at it, and Kemboi was humble enough to run with him in his victory lap. Kemboi finished the race third.
The disappointment, however, came when Kemboi was later disqualified and had his medal taken away from him after French runner Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad made an official complaint that Kemboi had stepped outside the track during the race. The mascot-punching Frenchman (yes, he really did punch a mascot once. Google it.), who had finished fourth, was given the bronze medal instead. Talk about sour grapes. Incase you’re wondering why the name Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad is familiar, this is the same man who Kemboi gave that absolutely cringe-worthy bit of man-love in 2012 when Kemboi won gold and Mekhissi-Benabbad won silver at the World Championships. Yep, that guy with whom Kemboi switched vests soaked in sweat. However, there might be a silver lining to all this. After the race, Kemboi had decided to retire from active athletics, but reversed his decision after the disqualification. So we definitely have not seen the last of the man.