Athletics Kenya and the Kenyan government will have to dig deep and conjure up a mechanism to retain the country’s running talent with Bahrain declaring they are ready to break the bank to build a strong national track and field team at Kenya’s expense.
Bahrain has in the last decade raided Kenyan reservoirs to snatch disgruntled, unappreciated talent that they turn into overnight national heroes and heroines in their quest to become Asia’s and, eventually, the world’s top athletics force.
Ruth Jebet’s victory for Bahrain in Saturday’s steeplechase final at the IAAF World Junior Championships may not have exactly sounded the death knell for Kenyan athletics, but it left a bitter taste and served a timely wake up call for Kenyan authorities to offer young athletes a reason not to switch passports.
(EDITORIAL: Contain the talent drain)
THERE IS MORE TO COME
“Her life will never be the same again! This is Bahrain’s first gold medal at the junior championships and there is more to come — wait and see,” a Bahraini team official at the event that closed on Sunday said after Jebet clocked 9:36.74 to win the gold medal at Hayward Field.
That Jebet looked completely out of place, unable to muster even a word of the Bahraini national anthem at the medals ceremony mattered little to the Bahrainis who fielded a team made up entirely of Ethiopian and Kenyan-born runners at last year’s IAAF World Championships in Moscow.
“Our aim is to win the overall title in this year’s Asian Games in South Korea,” the Bahraini official said as he received calls from Manama congratulating Jebet who will pay a courtesy call to the country’s ruler, King Hamad, to present her medal and most certainly, walk away with a life-changing cheque.
World Youth champion Rosefline Chepng’etich (9:40.28) took silver as defending champion Daisy Chepkemei settled for bronze in 9:47.65.
Jebet, who was snatched from class at Riruta Central Secondary School in Nairobi, said she had planned to chase a particular time target during the final.
“I looked at the clock with two laps to go and the time was poor. I decided to go faster. My rivals responded, but I was well prepared for this race,” said Jebet.
Besides Jebet, coach Gregory Kilonzo, the man behind the Riruta Central production line, will also be showered with money. “If I can get money to put food on the table by working for Bahrain, why not?” says Kilonzo, currently serving an indefinite suspension from AK.