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Why Africa's elite athletes skipped Rabat

Friday August 30 2019

Kenya's Mercy Wangui celebrates after winning silver in the women's 3,000m steeplechase during the African Games on August 28, 2019 in Rabat, Morocco. PHOTO | PAUL OCHIENG |

Kenya's Mercy Wangui celebrates after winning silver in the women's 3,000m steeplechase during the African Games on August 28, 2019 in Rabat, Morocco. PHOTO | PAUL OCHIENG |  

IDAH WARINGA
By IDAH WARINGA
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IN RABAT, MOROCCO

Remember the “Would You Rather” game that kids played back in the day? Then those kids grew into adults who still played the same game but this time with much more complicated questions.

Well, I’ll keep mine simple…if you had your pick, would you rather be King of Africa or King of the World?

That’s the question that has faced many high-profile African track and field athletes, with some choosing the latter. The athletics programme at the 2019 African Games start on Monday, and some huge names have been missing as a result of preferring the IAAF Diamond League.

Kenya’s 3,000m steeplechase women’s world-record holder Beatrice Chepkoech, former world champion in the same discipline Hyvin Kiyeng and middle-distance runner Emmanuel Korir are the Kenyans who have given Rabat a wide berth.

Meanwhile, Botswana’s Nijel Amos wasn’t at the games that saw him win gold four years ago in Congo Brazzaville. Christine Botlogetswe, who scooped silver for Botswana in the 4x400 relay is also missing.

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Kenyan athletics icon Tegla Lorupe disagrees with the notion.

“Athletes should know that they are also role models, they ought to love their country and be patriots first,” the former world record marathon holder rates representing one’s country as the most important thing a sportsman can do. For some, reasons for prioritizing the Diamond League are largely economical. Some $30,000 (Sh3 million) of prize money is awarded per discipline at each IAAF Diamond League qualification meeting, while each athlete crowned Diamond League Champion wins $50,000 (Sh5 million) at the end of the season.

In the 2018 season, Qatar’s Abderrahman Samba was the highest grossing DL athlete at $62,500 (Sh6.2 million) while Burundi’s 800m champion Francine Niyonsaba walked away with $42,000 (Sh4.2 million).

Clearly, the DL is where the big bucks are. And while the lucrative rewards might be a motivator, for others it’s also about keeping the momentum going.

Amos recently ran a personal best time of 1:41.89 in the 800m at the Monaco DL. This was the fastest time since the famous 2012 Olympics 800m final that saw a teenage Amos finish behind Kenya’s David Rudisha who set the world record at 1:40.91.

Despite the few missing athletes, many track and field stars from the continent are in action at the Prince Moulay Abdellah Stadium here.

World Champion Julius Yego is back to where it all began. His gold in the 2011 Maputo Games was the first in an illustrious career.

Olympic and World Champion Consenslus Kipruto had to withdraw in the 3,000m steeplechase to avowing aggravating an injury.

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