Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Prefontaine trials debate unfolds as Kenyans pan for Olympic gold

By ELIAS MAKORI [email protected]

At the 1968 Mexico Olympic Games, 23-year-old Naftali Temu cruised past Ethiopian superstar Mamo Wolde 50 metres to the tape to win Kenya a memorable 10,000 metres gold medal.

That remains Kenya’s only Olympic gold medal ever in the 10,000m.

Twenty years later, at the Seoul Olympics, 26-year-old soldier John Ngugi opened up a 50-metre gap in the first kilometre of the 5,000m final, holding on to win the gold medal by a 30-metre margin from German Dieter Baumann.

That remains Kenya’s only Olympic gold medal ever in the 5,000m.

And what’s more, Kenya has never won an Olympic gold in the women’s 5,000m and 10,000m races.

These disturbing statistics have haunted Athletics Kenya for years. In an effort to right the wrongs, AK at the weekend announced that trials for the two longest track competitions will now be held in Eugene, Oregon, USA, at the annual Prefontaine Classic track and field meeting on June 1.

AK chairman Isaiah Kiplagat on Tuesday strongly defended the decision, saying there will be an elaborate elimination programme in Kenya which starts when a select group of Olympic prospects set up camp in Eldoret from next month.

The decision to divorce the 10,000m and 5,000m selection from the traditional national trials - to be held at the Nyayo National Stadium from June 21 to 23 - has met with mixed reactions, but Kiplagat maintains something has to be done to bring the elusive Olympic medals.

Mini-trials at an appropriate place

“Fears over these (Prefontaine) trials are misplaced,” Kiplagat said on Tuesday.

There will be residential training in Eldoret from next month and the athletes, who will have achieved the ‘A’ and ‘B’ qualifying standards, will undergo a thorough programme.

“We will do mini-trials at an appropriate place after which we will select athletes to go for the Prefontaine trials. People should not play politics as we are looking for the best Kenyan team.”

But Paul Tergat, beaten to the gold medal by the thickness of a vest (0.09 seconds), in the Sydney 2000 Olympic final on Tuesday argued that Kenyan trials are still the best.

And Tergat, a former world marathon record holder, got support from his long-time friend Moses Tanui, who is also for home trials.

“The national Olympic team selection should be done by Kenyans, run in Kenya and witnessed by Kenyans,” Tergat said in a press statement, adding that he understood AK had good intentions.

Stretch the selection process

“It is better to stretch the selection process for a even a week so as to give every athlete a chance to compete.”

Tanui said rather than spend money shipping athletes to Oregon, AK and its sponsors should use the money to develop athletics from the county level.

“The money used to take one athlete to the US is enough to do quite a lot in one county,” the 1991 (Tokyo) world 10,000m champion argued.

“We have always been doing the selection in Kenya and we must bring the country’s idols to compete at home so as to encourage youngsters.”

But Kiplagat maintained that the camp at high altitude in Eldoret, sea level trials in Oregon, and pre-Olympic training again at altitude, will hold the athletes in good stead.

The London Olympics qualifying standards (to be achieved between January 1, 2012 and July 8) are: 5,000m (men’s ‘A’ 13:20.00, men’s ‘B’ 13:27.00; women’s ‘A’ 15:20.00, women’s ‘B’ 15:30.00) and 10,000m (men’s ‘A’ 27:45.00, men’s ‘B’ 28:05.00; women’s ‘A’ 31:45.00, women’s ‘B’ 32:10.00).

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