14 November 2007

Kenya: 'Quacks' Invade Training Camps

Nairobi — The mushrooming of unregulated athletics training camps in the North Rift has started having negative effects in the area.

Quacks posing as athletes have invaded one of the towns and now the community wants the local branch of Athletics Kenya to veto runners.

This follows increasing incidents of immoral behaviour that the community feels is a threat to their children.

Wayward "runners" are said to be harassing young girls, some still in schools, and their sincerity as serious sportsmen is in doubt.

The Keiyo District Sports Officer, Clement Ng'elechi, has said some parents have reported to his office that athletes camping in the town had impregnated their daughters.

"They are complaining that some athletes are enticing their daughters with money and other 'presents'. They are becoming a bad example," said the sports officer.

And when sought for comment on Tuesday , the Athletics Kenya secretary-general, David Okeyo, denied knowledge of the goings-on. "We are not aware," he said.

Cases of schoolgirls getting pregnant and subsequently dropping out of schools are rampant in Iten town and surrounding villages.

Three months ago, a Catholic priest threatened to mobilise his flock to evacuate bogus athletes whom, he said, were a disgrace to sports.

Fr Thomas Kigen asked Christians during a Sunday Mass to report cases of athletes misbehaving with their daughters so that appropriate punitive measures could be taken against them.

"These people should not be allowed to mess up the lives of our children with their money. They should leave students alone to acquire knowledge," protested the priest who has since proceeded on Sabbatical leave in Austria.

The priest, who is also a member of the District Education Board, asked teachers to report cases of girl dropouts linked to the runners.

Parents blamed

But the local DC, Peter Kinuthia, blamed parents and poverty.

He said it was the duty of responsible parents to educate their teenagers on the dangers of pre-marital sex and other ills.

"It is the parents who have abandoned their responsibilities. A responsible parent should take care of his children and ensure they grow up with dignity," he said.

He noted that most parents were engaged in brewing and consumption of illicit brews hence do not have time for their children.

He urged responsible people, including local leaders, to work together in ensuring peaceful co-existence between the athletes and the local community. "When such a problem comes up, it is everyone's duty to work out solutions. The girls and the runners are our children," advised the DC.

The otherwise serene town of the North Rift District is now teeming with runners who believe it is the best place to train for long and middle distance races.

The young people flocking the area meet training partners and every morning all roads, footbaths and fields are abuzz. In the past eight years, more than 1,000 runners, mainly training as individuals, have rented houses in almost every estate within Iten.

Coaches Peter Mathu and Joseph Cheromei have to contend with surplus runners who join their group for the main training sessions.

"We don't know where some of them live. We only see them when we go for long runs and training on the track," said Mathu who handles Demadonna's group in the area.

Admittedly, Iten is an ideal training area with running tradition from the local school, St Patrick's Iten, where most of the juniors train.

University of Champions

Famous international runners including Kenya-born Dutch, Lornah Kiplagat, world marathon champion Luke Kibet, Christopher Cheboiboch, Evans Rutto and many others train in Iten.

Many hitherto unknown athletes like last year and this year's Nairobi Standard Chartered Marathon champions Irine Jerotich and Rose Chesire trained here.

But lack of co-ordination and regulation has attracted impostors to the small township. Mathu and Ng'elechi said a serious sportsman should be focused, disciplined and hard working and cannot have time to engage in other behaviours.

The town is the home to four important training camps - the High Altitude Training Camp (christened University of Champions) is the first facility in the region with centralised administration.

Kiplagat and her husband own the camp. Her sister Monica runs it. Initially, the facility was meant for female athletes.

Then there is the seasonal junior training camp run by Irish clergy Bro Colm O'Connell at St Patrick's High School, Iten.

The training camp, mainly for schoolboys and girls, is held during April and December when the juniors prepare for inter-schools track and cross-country competitions.

This is one of the well-organised training camps with teachers playing the roles of coaches and chaperons. The camp lasts three weeks before schools reopen.

Junior stars like the world 800m champion David Rudisha, world youth 3,000m champion Daniel Salel and Lucas Rotich and last year's world junior cross-country champion Mangata Ndiwa are members of this camp.

The other two camps are owned and run by athletics managers with a good number of local athletes. They cater for established runners who use them to prepare for major competitions outside the country.

They are for mature and experienced elite class.

The rest of the runners train either directly from their homes or live in rental houses within the town. Those who have made money from overseas competitions have bought plots and built their houses.

Since AK has not come up with guidelines on a criterion of setting up training camps, quacks in the name of coaches are misleading upcoming runners.

Because they lack professional administrative skills, they over-train young runners and take them to road races at an early age.

"As long as AK does not bring genuine coaches together, people will continue displaying stop watches and calling themselves coaches," said Bro Colm.

He said Kenya should stop relying on the quantity of runners, but should go for quality like Ethiopia, the US and Jamaica.

The number of Kenyans competing in road races out-numbers those on the track and their training leaves a lot to be desired.

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