After evaluating the factors thought to dictate the success of Kenyan athletes, I am inclined, like many writers before me, to say that it is a combination of genetic, physiological, environmental and psychological factors that contribute to Kenyan’s athletic prowess.
When Kipchoge Keino won gold and a silver in 1968, he was celebrated as a hero, feted like a king and even today he is a respected celebrity in Kenya. Kenyan elite athletes confess that they run to beat poverty, to escape drudgery, to make it in life.
Running, to them, seems the easiest route to stardom and better life. Therefore, they use everything at their disposal to run and be successful like the rich and famous role models in their backyards.
Myths, conspiracy theories and assumptions are hard to dispel, but it seems Kenyan and Ethiopian runners have learnt the secret as described by Malcolm Gladwell in his book, Outliers: The Story of Success.
In the book, Gladwell explains what makes people like Bill Gates and Beatles (English rock band) world class. First they have the talent or interest, they work hard on it consistently for at least 10,000 hours to hone their skill, they master it and voila! they become superstars.
Think of the William sisters and tennis. Think of Tiger Woods in golf. Even the famous inventor Thomas Edison said “genius (call it success) is one per cent inspiration (you may call it talent/gene) and 99 per cent perspiration (hard work).
Can anyone just train and become an Olympics gold medallist? Perhaps no. You have to have something special, for example, the body features of Michael Phelps (swimmer), the height of Michael Jordan (basketball player), and then perfect the advantage.
Similarly, it is true that Kenyan athletes have a body type that is suited for running (which may be influenced to some extent by genes) and live in an ideal training geographical location (high altitude), but for them to reign, they train hard, consistently, sometimes under very difficult and unfavourable conditions.
And, finally, there is that drive, the thing that tells them to hold-on when exhaustion and tiredness sets in; the psychological motivation of wealth, fame and celebrity status.