IN YOKOHAMA, JAPAN
Aron Koech, Kenya’s captain to the IAAF World Relays here, is in agreement that a radical change of menu - from the traditional distance running staple to a sprints offering - is required if Kenya is to continue devouring medals in the global track and field party.
He wants sprints “shown more respect” if Kenya is to remain relevant on the fast-changing global athletics circuit.
On Saturday, tactical naivety and lack of cohesion was clearly evident as Kenya crashed out of medal contention in two of the team’s first three events here, the mixed 2x2x400 metres and the women’s 4x400 metres.
The day’s only straight final was the former, a brand new race in the World Relays, where Kenya fielded Collins Kipruto and Eglay Nalyanya, with the pair disqualified after Nalyanya stepped outside the track at third change.
An event that requires endurance, this relay sees each athlete cover two 400-metre laps, meaning one needs to figure out how to tackle 400m twice with just a minute’s rest in between.
The running order is free, but an athlete cannot run two laps in a row.
Kipruto, a 1:46.20 runner in the 800m, ran the opening and third legs, with Kenya opening up a huge gap and leading through the 400m (49.10), 800m (1:46.70) and 1,200m (2:40.30).
But Nalyanya, battling against male opponents, was outmuscled in the final lap, fading away as USA (3:36.92), Australia (3:37.61) and hosts Japan (3:38.36) took the medals.
She also noted that she and Kipruto weren’t made aware of the running order in good time.
“It was our assumption that I would run the same leg with the women… no man would wish to be defeated by a woman and that’s why it was tough for me in the final lap,” said Nalyanya, in mitigation.
“This should be a typically Kenyan race because we have the endurance of 800m and 1,500m athletes,” she lamented.
The duo was disqualified under International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) rule 163.6 that outlaws “continuing the race after voluntarily leaving the track” in reference to Nalyanya’s stepping outside the track from the inner lane.
The Kenyan camp was already licking their wounds earlier on after the women’s 4x400m team of Maureen Thomas, Hellen Syombua, Neviah Michira and Gladys Musyoki wound up fifth in the opening heat (3:31.26) and 14th overall.
This was after Syombua and Michira had run decent second and third legs, only for Musyoki to capitulate in the final 200 metres.
But they will run in the ‘B’ final on Sunday with an outside chance of still qualifying for the IAAF World Championships to be held in Doha in September and October, as these relays form part of the qualifying process.
“We need more time to train together. We effectively had just one week of training because in between we also travelled to the US for the Penn Relays,” Syombua said after the race.
There was some reprieve, however, when Koech, a seasoned hurdler, anchored Kenya to qualification for the final of the mixed 4x400m relay.
His team, that also featured Jared Momanyi, Maureen Thomas and the indefatigable Syombua, clocked 3:16.90 in heat two, finishing behind Canada (3:16.78) and Germany (3:16.85) to qualify as one of the fastest losing quartets.
They line up in lane two of today’s final at 1.53pm Kenyan time on Sunday.
Despite just making it through, Koech was a disturbed captain.
He implored Athletics Kenya and the country’s sports authorities to put up a specialised sprints camp in Nairobi if Kenya’s sprinters are to make any impact on the fast-changing global track circuit.
“We pray that Athletics Kenya puts up a camp for sprinters so that we can train as a team and so that our training is co-ordinated, rather than everyone training individually and only showing up for the trials after which we go into a one-week camp expecting results,” he argued.
“Practice makes perfect and that’s why we need a united training camp.”
He, however, said he was happy with the flow and selection of the mixed relay quartet.
“It was good because the two girls (Thomas and Syombua) are the fastest 400 metres runners in Kenya at the moment. The coach arranged us well…
“All we need is support from AK because we can shine out there. Exposure is important. My late brother (former hurdles world champion) Nicholas Bett proved this with a World Championships gold and Boniface Mucheru got a silver from the Olympics.
“With support anything is possible as long as those in authority declare any event in Kenya as being equal and can get the medals. We need to run and compete.”
USA won the opening day’s two finals in the interesting mixed shuttle hurdles relay and the 2x2x400 metres races.