Concern over lacklustre World Relays performance

Monday May 4 2015

Alphas Kishoyian trains at the Safaricom Stadium on April 21, 2015 ahead of the World Relays. PHOTO | CHRIS OMOLLO

Alphas Kishoyian trains at the Safaricom Stadium on April 21, 2015 ahead of the World Relays. PHOTO | CHRIS OMOLLO | NATION MEDIA GROUP

By AYUMBA AYODI
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Kenya's failure to win an event at the just concluded World Relays in the Bahamas is worrying, as the country prepares for the World Championships in China in three months’ time.

The performance saw the athletes earning the dubious distinction of failing to win gold for Kenya at an international event for the first time in decades.

Perhaps the last time Kenya failed to win was at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics when Wilson Kiprugut won the country its maiden Olympic medal with bronze in the 800m.

Poor coaching that encompassed inferior tactics and baton handling has been blamed for the lacklustre display, together with poor selection and sabotage.

Several people, including top athletes, expressed disappointment on social media.

From third place last year with three gold medals and a silver, Kenya would slump to seventh place with two silvers after the men’s medley and women’s 4x800m teams were beaten by US teams on the final day.

Despite finishing third in the heats, Kenya’s 4x200m men’s team was disqualified, as the 4x800m women’s team that won silver last year astonishingly finished eighth.

Kenya’s other silver medal was won by the women’s medley team on the opening day. Kenya finished with 15 points behind winners USA with 63 points which won seven out of 10 races.

The medley team of Abednego Chesebe (1,200m), Alphas Kishoyian (400m), Ferguson Rotich (800m) and Timothy Cheruiyot (1,600m) clocked 9:17.20 to finish second as the explosive Ben Blankenship anchored the US to a world record-breaking victory in 9:15.50.

In the 4x200m, Carvin Nkanata was disqualified for not handing over the baton at the official exchange zone. The 4x400m and 4x800m men’s teams encountered a similar fate on the opening day.

IMPROVED RECORD

The US team of Kyle Merber (1,200m), Brycen Spratling (400m), Brandon Johnson (800m) and Blankenship (1,600m) improved on the nine-year-old Kenyan record by 0.06, thanks in part to an outstanding last leg by Blankenship in 3:51.24.

Blankenship took over in front but was over a second-and-a half outside the world record pace. He then saw Kenyan's experienced Cheriuyot pass him 200 metres into the first lap and quickly establish a 20-metre lead, but the American held his nerve and started to reel in his rival.

By the bell, Blankenship was on the shoulder of Cheruiyot and then passed him on the final bend before visibly gritting his teeth down the home straight to win.

There was more heartbreak when the women’s 4x800m team astonishingly finished last in 8:33.15 as the US successfully defended their title with the margin of victory being quite a shock.

Their winning time of 8:00.62 took almost a second off the competition best and area record they set last year. It was also the fastest time in the world in this event for more than 20 years.

WEAK TEAM

There was a general feeling that Athletics Kenya selected a weak team that saw experienced athletes like Eunice Sum, Janeth Jepkosgei and Agatha Jeruto, who competed in the 4x800m last year, miss out after they failed to take part in the national series.

Asbel Kiprop, who was to compete in the medley but withdrew from the team, dismissed reports that it was after his management, Rosa Associati, was suspended.

Kiprop said his absence was due to a hamstring injury which the team management was aware about.

Reports had indicated that several top athletes opted not to compete after AK declined to refund a total of $35,000 (Sh3.3m) they deducted from the medal winning teams from last year’s event.

However, AK vice president in charge of competition David Okeyo defended their selection, saying that they have a programme which all athletes must follow. Okeyo also defended their coaches' performances, saying they had also handled last year’s team.

“With the relays being a new event, Kenya must now adjust to it and train hard in order to perform well in future. It’s unfortunate we were disqualified in men’s 4x800m. I don’t want to talk about the coaches until we receive a report on what really happened in Bahamas,” said Okeyo.

“It’s not only Kenya were who disqualified and had baton handling issues, even USA and Jamaica encountered a similar predicament.”

Okeyo said they will have to determine whether they will need more training time or change the mode of selection for the team.