Greetings from St Peterburg, not in Russia, but in “sunshine state” of Florida, USA, where I’m enrolled for the next few days in a media fellowship at the Poynter Institute of Media Studies.
Most certainly, like every other Kenyan all over the world, I’ll be walking with a spring in my step at the daily sessions here following another Kenyan marathon victory at Sunday’s Chicago Marathon where Brigid Kosgei sliced about two minutes off her personal best time in winning the Chicago Marathon.
Her sub-two hours, 20 minute victory dominated the headlines in American sports press on Monday with the Chicago Tribune paying tribute to her tactical push that blew apart the chasing pack.
In a weekend of mixed emotions, Kenya got a rude wake-up call when Great Britain’s Sir Mo Farah chalked up his first major victory over the 42-kilometre distance in winning the men’s title in “Windy City” is a personal best two hours, five minutes and 11 seconds.
After dominating the 5,000 and 10,000 metres on the track, the twice double Olympic champion – who juggles his training between Iten, Addis Ababa, Oregon and his home country of England – said he now has the World Championships in Doha next October in his crosshairs.
Knighted by Buckingham Palace for his track exploits, Mo, who operates the on-and-off “Mo Farah Foundation” in Nairobi to, allegedly, help marginalized communities in Kenya, had obviously been motivated by the recognition shown by the British for his achievements.
In stark contrast, our world beaters seldom get such recognition.
It was painful watching Kenya’s new world record holder Eliud Kipchoge’s television interview the other day where he said he “wouldn’t mind” getting some sort of higher recognition from the state.
President Mwai Kibaki decorated him with a Head of State Commendation (HSC) which was a good gesture.
But for his exploits in distance running, including falling just 25 seconds short of breaking the two-hour barrier in the marathon at the famous Monza attempt last year, Kipchoge most certainly deserves the highest honour available in our nation.
Perhaps, roughly, just one in every 200 adults you meet (statistics mine) will not know of Kipchoge who ranks high up there with Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan, Muhammad Ali, Pele and Wayne Gretsky as the “greatest of all time” in his trade.
Flipping through the local daily here (the Tampa Bay Times), I wasn’t surprised at the status accorded to sporting stars in America.
“Win breakfast with a Buc”, screamed an advert in the broadsheet, calling on fans to text 95999 with the keyword ‘Buc’ to win breakfast, photo ops and conversation in the spring of next year with a star from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, an American football franchise based in Tampa, Florida.
Such recognition of sporting stars was also articulated in Sunday’s Chicago Marathon where Japan’s Suguru Osako earned 100 million yen (about a million US dollars or Sh100 million) from the Japanese track and field authorities for shattering the Japanese marathon record in finishing third, 39 seconds behind winner Mo and 16 behind Ethiopia’s silver medallist Mosinet Geramew.
Which triggered my mind.
Why can’t Kenyan athletes also get national incentives for setting new world records?
Because rewards wouldn’t be economically viable for national records which are shattered left, right and centre, making it tricky for the exchequer to set aside cash for the serial achievers.
Athletics Kenya, along with the national and county governments, need to fashion out a documented awards scheme to celebrate people like Kipchoge who have not just proved a point to the running world, but also made a major statement that human achievement is not limited.
This will spur better performances for the upstarts who will not only gun for the lucrative awards, but strive to test the human limits.
It would have been fabulous to see Kenyan government investment in Kipchoge’s “breaking two” attempt to dip under the two-hour barrier in the marathon as this would also be a fitting contribution to science.
We are jointly guilty of underplaying the performances of our athletes.
Last week, I took a swipe at blinkered marketing executives for giving our athletes a wide berth, but, collectively, as a nation, we all stand accused.
From the media to technocrats and the political leadership.
We seem to glorify economic saboteurs, socialites and criminals, voting them into governance after benefiting from their largese impounded from national coffers.
We complain when taxes are raised, but still stand in the queue to give a sign of approval to individuals who plunder such taxes and divert them into their campaign machinery.
But we seldom celebrate when our athletes hoist our flag high up in global capitals, like Kipchoge, proving that man is not limited.
The “Githeri man” boasts a national medal that many of our world-beating athletes only dream to have, simply because he merely stood in the queue to vote, munching away a staple from a now-banned, infamous polythene.
God help Kenya