double sends Kenyan coaches back to the drawing board
Omulo Okoth for the IAAF
28 March 2002 - The truth is dawning upon Kenyans that talent is inborn. No better event would have driven this truism home than the 30th IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Dublin, Ireland, 23-24 March.
"We had John Ngugi. The Americans had Carl Lewis. Morocco had Said Aouita and, recently, Hicham El Guerrouj. The Ukrainians have had Sergey Bubka. The Ethiopians had Haile Gebrselassie. We again had Paul Tergat, while Kenenisa Bekele has emerged again from Ethiopia," Kenya's veteran coach Mike Kosgei said on arrival home from Dublin.
"These were exceptionally talented athletes who were unbeaten when in shape. They don't just emerge on the world stage. And I can say with no fear of contradiction that Bekele is going in their direction. We will have to work extra hard to contain him in the near future," Kosgei, 50, said.
"The boy was just too good for us. We had an elaborate team plan for him right from the camp in Embu (some 200-km north-east of Nairobi on the foothills of Mt Kenya). Having watched him destroy the field in the short-course race, we modified our plans and set two athletes to work on him from the start," Kosgei continued. "But the boy just outsmarted us completely. He not only beat us. He annihilated us. He ran elegantly and I could see from the half-way stage that we were fighting a losing battle. He is in a class of his own at the moment,"
Kenya's senior athletes Charles Kamathi and Richard Limo, who are world champions over 10,000m and 5000m respectively, also acknowledged Bekele's good form and said no matter how well-executed their plan, beating him would have been a long shot, not just for Kenyans but for other competitors, too.
"We tried our best but were beaten hands down. He was just too good for us," Kamathi, who finished fifth in 35:29, said.
His views were supported by Limo, fourth-placed in Dublin. "Not that we were not good enough, but we have to accept when one is in shape. That is the essence of sports. We accept defeat," Limo said.
Kenya's athletics chiefs thought the athletes concentrated less on stamina and speed and urged the technical men to identify areas where their training had shortcomings to be worked upon as soon as possible.
Kenya Amateur Athletic Association (KAAA) chairman Isaiah Kiplagat also said there is need to make some positions permanent like coaches and managers to institute continuity.
"We shall form a coaching commission so that coaches at the grassroots can supply information about upcoming and talented athletes to the national team.
Apart from the knowledgeable lot among Kenya's athletics pundits, who know that the 12 km senior men's race is the thing at the World Cross, most Kenyans were invariably happy with the performance in Dublin.
"The women have always remained behind in past major championships. With Edith Masai winning a gold in the 4 km and Viola Kibiwott defending her junior women's title, I think our women have done commendably well," KAAA secretary general David Okeyo said.
"The World Cross is more of a team event than an individual competition and on that score I think retaining the team title was more important than just winning the senior men's individual title. I am not disappointed and I don't think many Kenyans are," Ayoki Onyango, a seasoned commentator on sports matters in Kenya's media, said.
Kenya retained the overall team title for the 17th successive year. Wilberforce Talel, Limo, Kamathi, Albert Chepkiriu and Enock Mitei and Hosea Kogo maintained the tradition which was put in place by the group of John Ngugi, Moses Tanui, Some Muge, the late Paul Kipkoech and Boniface Merande in Neuchatel, Switzerland, in 1986.
Ngugi won five individual gold in 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989 and 1992. as did Tergat between 1995 and 1999. William Sigei won the title in 1993 and 1994. They have remained the greatest cross country runners from Kenya. Their performance has remained the measure by which subsequent performances are evaluated. Hence the difficult situation Kenyan runners inadvertently find themselves in.
Individual gold medals came from Viola Kibiwott and Edith Masai, while team gold medals were from the senior men's 12 km team, junior men's 8 km team, the senior men's short course team and women's junior 6 km team.
The senior women's short course won a team silver while the women's long course won a team bronze.
The message to the technical team was terse. Go back to the drawing board immediately in order to tackle next year's World Cross.
Omulo Okoth is a veteran athletics journalist working as a sub-editor for the East African Standard in Nairobi. He covered the recent World Cross Country Championships in Dublin.