The powerhouse, the undisputed champions of the distances, the Yankees of the Rift Valley.
However you want to put it, Kenya has been the face of distance royalty for decades. But just like the Bronx Bombers there has to be some drama with holding the crown of athletic preeminence. This year’s Olympiad in London is turning out to be no exception.
What first seemed a no brainer for who would represent the country in the marathon, its most cherished event, turned into a game of musical chairs and pouting that would be akin to a benching Alex Rodriguez. World record holder Patrick Makau was left of the team very conspicuously after setting the new mark in Berlin and instead went with Emmanuel Mutai, Abel Kirui and Wilson Kipsang. This also left off Geoffery Mutai another athlete who was projected to be on the team even after the drop out of Moses Mosop due to injury.
The fact that any one country could be so bountiful in marathoners is impressive but has led to some the athletes to scratch their head to how Athletics Kenya made their selection. Makau and Mutai have both voiced some displeasure by their being overlooked. Regardless of this the marathon team is sending by far the best ever assembled for an Olympics. This has once again called into many people’s minds the inner workings of Athletics Kenya and its sometimes tempestuous relationship with athletes and some odd decisions which leave the outside observer to wonder what is going on in the hierarchy of this governing council.
Going above and beyond the oddity of the marathon team selection was the case of steeplechase world champion Ezekiel Kemboi. In the weeks leading up to the Games after already securing a spot on the prestigious steeplechase team, Kemboi allegedly stabbed a woman in the chest after she had rejected his advances. Luckily the woman survived and was treated for her wounds but Kemboi in his swaggering fashion was arraigned in court. While charges were read against him he smiled and was nonchalant about the entire instance. Some questioned whether he would be selected to attend London with this kind of legal trouble following him. Rather than reprimand or drop him, Kenyan Athletics decide to ship him out with the rest of the team to its training base in Bristol, England away from further questioning.
This is itself a bit absurd. Though not yet proven guilty, the fact that Kemboi retained his place on the team when suitable alternates such as Paul Koech who was not chosen due to his poor performances at altitude could simply be sent. This in itself has been a contentious issue as Kenyan athletes who are poor racers at altitude feel they are inhibited by the trials being held at Nairobi where the elevation can work against them despite the competition of the Games being at sea level settings.
Despite the kind of uncoordinated and haphazard style of organization that seems to plague Kenya’s ruling sports council, it has borne success on the track as last year’s World Championships was one of its strongest performances. Hoping to translate that into the Olympics should be a test but definitely possible. This comes in the shadow of the 2008 Games where rival Ethiopia walked away with the more impressive hardware total but don’t think that has not played on the minds of Kenya’s athletes and their overseers.
The constant infighting and reckless behavior that is becoming more noticed about Kenya’s system of sports governance and decision making could as easily be that of an American professional sports team of baseball (cue Yankees and Red Sox) or European soccer clubs (always a joy to watch a star player and coach bicker). These formulas have worked to propel them to victories so why would Kenya be any different? Whatever happens at the Games for Kenya’s track team, we can be assured it should not be without a little soap opera vibe and a pleasure to watch no matter what the performances deliver.