11 August 2017

Kenya: We're Denying Our Stars Their Moment of Glory

Faith Chepng'etich Kipyegon, Kenya's middle distance sensation from Keringet, Nakuru County, electrified the world on Monday night with her breathtaking victory in the 1,500 metres final.

It was a huge moment for a youngster who, at just 23 years of age, has achieved everything on the track, grabbing all gold medals on offer.

She has the world and Olympic titles, and also panned gold medals at the World Youth Championships in 2011, World Junior Championships in 2012 besides victories in the Africa and World Cross Country Championships in the junior ranks.

Coached by Dutchman Bram Som, himself a legendary, indefatigable 800 metres pacemaker of the William Tanui mould, and managed by Jos Hermens' Global Sports Communications, Chepng'etich also holds the national record at three minutes, 56.41 seconds which she set last year.

But, even with all these accolades, it's shocking that the British media here turned a blind eye on our "Keringet Express" instead shining the spotlight on their own contender Laura Muir, never mind the fact that she didn't even get a bronze.

Well, you could play the patriotism card, bla bla, but for professional media not to tell the story of the most consistent 1,500m runner is baffling, to say the least.

"Muir has won the mind games... now for the gold" screamed a headline in the Evening Standard on race day Monday.

Amazingly, the athletics correspondent, Matt Majendie, who has visited Kenya before, didn't even mention Chepng'etich in his preview.

"Muir faces Sifan Hassan, who boasted the three quickest times in the world prior to the championships, and world record holder Genzebe Dibaba," he wrote. To him, Chepng'etich would be an 'also ran.' Even after the brilliant Kenyan's victory in 4:02.59, the British press maintained the Muir story line.

"Muir pipped in the final stride" the Daily Mail reported in it's post-race spread, the kicker going on: "Laura loses out in race of champions."

The newspaper had lots of quotes from Muir and an entire story analysing bronze medallist Caster Semenya's hyperandrogenism (a medical condition that sees excessive male hormones in women), but not a single word on Chepng'etich, let alone a quote from the Olympic champion, now world champion too.

But then this begs the question: Who then would have pushed for Chepng'etich's story to be told? With a dysfunctional Athletics Kenya communications department, the story of Kenyan athletes hasn't been offered to international media covering these championships.

No meet-and-greet forums, no Team Kenya press briefings, no photo calls...

I've incessantly stressed the need for our federation to package our athletes and let them shine, with media sessions and interaction with global journalists one of the must-have forums at competitions like the World Championships.

But in Kenya, it's usually more about the official than the athlete, despite the fact that the athlete remains the biggest stakeholder in track and field.


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