Ethiopia’s resurgence in Barcelona a wake-up call for Kenya
The action at the just-concluded IAAF World Junior Championship in Barcelona has sent a sober warning to our teams.
At the weekend, the Kenyan squad fell short of extinguishing the fire from perennial Ethiopian dominance since the championship began in Athens in 1986.
Kenya sent a contingent of 27 athletes to the Spanish city, one of our worst outings since the inaugural event in Greece.
To be precise, Kenya has topped the medal table on three occasions but the Ethiopians have been quietly gate-crashing the Kenyan party, a habit they gleefully escalate to the senior level.
Saturday night’s victory by Ethiopia’s Muktar Edris in the 5,000 metres final in a race Kenya’s William Malel finished third behind Eritrea’s Abrar Osman Adem was testimony to the worrying trend that, again, saw Ethiopia complete a distance running sweep in Barcelona.
Well, the fair bit is that Kenya started with victory in Santiago, Chile, in 2000 with 14 medals – seven gold, four silver and three bronze – ahead of powerhouse Russia.
Kenya also did well in China after a mouthwatering assault, clinching the overall title in Beijing in 2006 with 15 medals – six gold, seven silver and two bronze - to finish ahead of China and the United States in the standings.
But Kenya’s outing to Bydgoszcz, Poland, in 2008 wasn’t good enough and we had to wait for the subsequent meet in Moncton, Canada, in 2010 to showcase our supremacy.
Kenya bagged 15 medals – seven gold, four silver and four bronze – finishing ahead of USA and Germany.
What provides hope, nonetheless, is that in Kenya there are good structures laid down to help budding talent to emerge hot off the production line and go on to conquer the world.
Top stars such as Vivian Cheruiyot, Janeth Jepkosgei and David Rudisha all honed their skills from these junior championships.
After Barcelona, track and field stakeholders need to go back to the drawing board. The squad to Barcelona had great potential but there are a few areas that need to be polished to see us back onto the podium in a more consistent and predictable manner.
There were good stories coming out of Barcelona. These include the case of Commonwealth Youth champion and Lille (2010) Junior Championships 400m silver medallist Alphas Kishoyan, who was made to run alone in the 400m semi-finals.
This was after the starter erred, starting the initial race before Kishoyan had stepped onto the blocks, and the Kenyan delegation appealed to the officials.
Kishoyan, who went ahead to finish sixth (46.19 seconds) in the final, reminds us of this year’s World Indoor Championships in Istanbul where Edwin Soi had been stepped on in the track and, being the team manager then, I had to appeal against the infringement, successfully.
The young blood in Barcelona are picking on relatively well and clearly showing good intentions of taking over the big shoes of the likes of former junior stars Rudisha and Mercy Cherono.
The championships in Barcelona, which attracted 180 nations out of the 202 member affiliates of the IAAF, were the best attended since the 2006 Beijing edition where 176 countries gathered in the Chinese capital.
This shows that global interest in track and field is rising and Kenyan runners must not rest on their laurels or bask in their past glory.
It is obvious, too, that the ‘usual suspects’ – Kenya, Russia, China, Jamaica and USA – will again be the teams to watch when the Olympics track and field programme rolls off in London on August 3.
Barnaba Korir, a former international athlete, is an athletes’ manager and chairman of Athletics Kenya’s Nairobi branch.