Coronavirus pandemic has halted sports competitions and international travels globally, forcing a number of foreign athletes training in Kenya to remain in their rented houses as they wait for a return to normalcy.
At Iten in Elgeyo-Marakwet County, it is common to meet athletes training individually following the government’s directives on social distancing. Many of the athletes are training once as one way of keeping fit for various competitions next season.
In Iten, most athletes have been tending to their farms as others remaining indoors with their families. Others are also busy on social media.
It’s on social media that the 2019 European Championships 800 metres bronze medallist Olga Lyakhova from Ukraine found herself on the receiving end of enraged group calling itself Kenyans on Twitter (KOT) after a message of goodwill about her training and stay in Kenya went awfully wrong due to what she termed “communication barrier.”
The message, written in Russian language, was meant to be one praising her stay in Iten as a place that has improved her performance in training.
In one of the tweets she posted after making her hair, she says: ‘I made myself an Afro yesterday, and this is not a joke - it’s 4 hours of pain. As they say, beauty requires sacrifice. But is it worth it? -I think no. I haven’t made such braids in 10 years.”
She went to write: “I’m thinking, who do I look like? A monkey or a wild Amazon? Or more options, what do you think?”
But Kenyans reacted angrily to her next tweet which said: ‘Life in Kenya is moving slow, it’s not metropolis where people don’t have time to raise their head to look at the sky. In Kenya, it’s own charm, it’s own charm. Kenyans never rush anywhere. They even say I’ll come at 2.00 but African means maybe an hour or more late. This really makes me angry. Can’t you do everything on time. But they live like that and that’s their feature.”
She went on: “There is the same price for products everywhere in the market, there is no price for products. You can live here, even for little money. Local products are cheap, but the meat is expensive. Life in Kenya is like getting into the past, 20 years. But civilization will come here.”
The message elicited angry responses from KOT. drive da boat @Mumbimaingi wrote: “Western standards /living are not the benchmark of civilization. Kindly educate yourself.”
Titus Kipchumba @titus_smalls wrote: “Sisi watu watu wa Iten hatusikii vibaya. No problem with the post. Re-read it.”
The athlete said she had been misunderstood following a misinterpretation by Google Translator and asked Kenyans to forgive her.
“I want to ask Kenyans to forgive me because what I wrote in Russian meant that Kenya has good time for socialising compared to European countries where even small children are busy in their gadgets. I love Kenya and I will always be coming here to train for various competitions,” she said.
“I wrote the message in Russian but Google translated it to mean something different from what I had intended. Iten is a good place to stay and train and why should I even think of badmouthing this place,” added Lyakhova, who is in Iten with her boyfriend Eugene Hlinski.
She said her haemoglobin levels have improved, something coach said was good for her career. She said she will always train in Iten.
Another Ukrainian athlete, Darya Mykhaylova, a marathoner who has been training in Iten, couldn’t travel back home in time for Vienna Marathon.
“I had done good preparations to compete in Vienna Marathon ahead of Olympic Games but the virus has halted everything. I’m now stuck in Iten but I’m happy that I will continue training in one of the perfect places in the world,” said Darya.
Tony Hrabovskyi, a 1,500m runner is also stuck in Iten after the virus ruined his race plans.
He said that he had high hopes in races this season with an eye on the Olympic Games which have, however, been postponed to next year.
“My target was to compete in the Olympic Games which have been postponed to next year but that gives us good time to train,” said Hrabovskyi.