While on the trail of Kenyan marathoners training at high altitude in Iten in Uasin Gishu County just days before the 2019 World Championships in Athletics, my colleague Benard Rotich aptly reminded me that if I randomly threw a stone in any direction, it would most certainly land in the home of current or former winner of a major city marathon. He reminded me that there was a good chance of the missile hitting a reigning or former world champion, Olympics champion, or Commonwealth Games champion. We all agreed that at the very least, the projectile would hit a medalist from any of the major city marathons or from the said championships. Such is Kenya’s unquestionable dominance in athletics. How I wish our athletes could match this performance with high level of awareness on matters doping and willingness to walk the talk.
Our predicament became clearer on Thursday when former 1,500 metres world champion Elijah Manang’oi became the latest high profile Kenyan athlete to be flagged for doping violation, denting Kenya’s hopes of breaking the world record over the distance.
What must we do impress upon our star athletes that their conduct in private and in training will make or break their careers? More importantly, do our oft-moneyed world-beaters have the humility to listen and take advice when it is given? Do they listen to their managers?
This column has in the past addressed the grave danger that ignorance poses to Kenyan athletes. With a rich legacy in athletics, Kenya is truly an undisputed leader in middle and long distance running. A casual glance at the results of any competition in the World Marathon Majors - the series consisting of six of the largest and most renowned marathons in the world – is enough to convince any doubting Thomas of the pedigree of Kenyan marathoners.
Be they Gold Label, Silver Label or Bronze Label races, we have dominated long distance running globally in a way not matched by any country. Only our East African rivals Ethiopia come close. The country’s dominance of athletics in major sporting competitions (Olympic Games, Commonwealth Games and World Athletics Championships) and age-group competitions also speaks for itself.
Kenyans currently hold the world record in marathon and half marathon races. Kenyans hold the record in women’s marathon (Brigid Kosgei - 2 hours, 14.04 seconds), men’s marathon (Eliud Kipchoge, 2:01:39), men’s half marathon (Geoffrey Kamworor, 58:01), and women’s half marathon Joyciline Jepkosgei, 1:04:51). The fastest man in the two-lap race, David Rudisha who holds the record of 1:40:91 over 800m, is the other world record holder from Kenya.
Ignorance over doping regulations has become the biggest threat to Kenya’s athletics dominance, and it gets worse if a senior athlete like Manang’oi who is regarded by many as Kenya’s best bet for the first metric-mile record, is suspended for missing three tests. No disrespect for Manang’oi’s brother George and current world champion Timothy Cheruiyot, the soft-spoken gentle giant who calmly and confidently answered our questions in the Mixed Zone after winning the world title in Doha last year, but breaking the world record is always going to take teamwork. Should he be banned, Manang’oi’s absence will reduce chances of a Kenyan breaking the 1,500m world record currently held by Morocco’s Hicham El Guerrouj. His apology to fans over missed tests notwithstanding, Manang’oi should have known better, being a senior athlete. His expected return from injury at the Monaco Diamond League on August 14 is now scuttled.
World Athletics Disciplinary Tribunal banned Mercy Kibarus for eight years, and Kenneth Kipkemoi got two years. AIU also suspended Patrick Siele for doping violation.
Whereas I sympathise with ignorant athletes who are on the wrong side of AIU but who must nevertheless take full responsibility, my advice to Kenyan athletes found guilty of using banned performance-enhancing substances is simple. Be ready to be the poster boy of doping in the media but find something to do very far from athletics. Take a leaf from Ezra Chiloba, the disgraced former CEO of Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, and find something else to do with your life. After being bundled out of the polls body on October 12, 2018, Chiloba has made himself useful again in the farm, growing maize for silage in Trans Nzoia. But, like Chiloba who has come out to fight claims that he is fighting prostate cancer, expect lots of wild allegations, criticism and jeering from your former colleagues in athletics. The loudest jeers will come from your opponents and your disappointed fans.
Mwamba is a Senior Sub-editor at the Nation Media Group. [email protected]