Kenya: Food for Though for Olympic Selectors

4 February 2020

Athletics Kenya (AK) selectors have finally picked the marathon teams for this year's Olympic Games in Tokyo.

And the selection couldn't have been any better.

With world record holders Eliud Kipchoge and Brigid Kosgei leading the men's and women's teams, that also have World Championships medallists Ruth Chepng'etich (gold) and Amos Kipruto (bronze), a clean sweep of the medals is a strong possibility.

Boston and Chicago champion Lawrence Cherono along with multiple track gold medallist, now marathon great, Vivian Cheruiyot, bring a wealth of experience into the squad, with reserves Bedan Karoki, Titus Ekiru, Sally Chepyego and Valary Aiyabei able to walk into any leading national team.

With such early preparations, the fight to bring back the Olympic marathon titles to Kenya should be the least of our worries.

AK, and, by extension, the National Olympic Committee of Kenya (Noc-k), now need to shift such impeccable selection and preparations to other events and disciplines.

Most worrying is the men's 10,000 metres where we are yet to strike gold since 1968 when the late Naftali Temu crossed the line first at the Olympic Stadium in Mexico.

This bizarre statistic is unacceptable!

With decorated (even knighted) multiple world and Olympic champion, Sir Mo Farah, having ended his sabbatical from the track, and Uganda's Joshua Cheptegei maturing like fine wine, this race could well prove elusive for the Kenyan camp, again, in Tokyo.

Unless, of course, we approach qualification and preparation differently, including considering changing the mode of trials.

Previously, our arch-rivals - but nonetheless friendly neighbours - Ethiopia have held their 10,000m qualification differently, in a specially organised race in Hengelo, the Netherlands.

And they seem to pick successful teams.

These sea level trials offer ideal competition conditions to select the best from a group that's been preparing at altitude.

Both Noc-k and AK enjoy cordial relations with Oregon-based sportswear giants Nike Inc. and with such camaraderie, they should consider holding the Kenyan 10,000m trials during the Nike-run Prefontaine Classic - the Oregon leg of the Diamond League - on June 6 and 7 at Eugene's brand new Hayward Field Stadium.

Standing at just 131 metres above sea level, the competition conditions at Hayward Field could be more ideal than Nairobi's or Eldoret's elevation of 1,795m and 2,090, respectively.

The selected squad can then proceed to training at high altitude to gain further advantage from a natural oxygen boost as they prepare to travel down for competition at the Games where the Tokyo Olympic Stadium rests at just 40 metres above sea level.

We simply can't expect to do the same thing over and over again and expect different results!

Also, now that the marathon squad has been picked, Noc-k and AK must settle for a widely accepted backroom staff to handle these athletes.

The choice of coaches and physios will be especially critical.

Kipchoge's success in the sub two-hour challenge in Vienna last October, for instance, was largely due to his awesome supporting cast that included coaches Patrick Sang and Richard Metto, along with physiotherapist Peter Nduhiu.

It would be reassuring to have these key tacticians on the flight to Japan, especially considering that with the marathon races programmed for Sapporo, some 800 kilometres from Tokyo, Team Kenya's backroom staff will obviously be stretched thin as others will have to oversee track and field assignments in Tokyo.

Our athletes are quite sensitive as to who handles them, and rightly so, especially at national team level.

Therefore, it would be prudent to maintain winning technical outfits.

Previously, we have seen nutritionists, coaches, physios and team managers picked because they are politically connected, not because they can deliver on the world's biggest sporting stage.

We don't expect Noc-k, AK, Kenya Rugby Union, Kenya Volleyball Federation, and the other federations that have qualified teams to Tokyo, to make such monumental blunders again.

The Olympic Games is not a stage to reward boyfriends, girlfriends and slay queens with junkets.

It's the ultimate stage to jealously guard national identity and feverishly defend our flag.

Thankfully, so far, Noc-k, AK and Team Kenya have steered clear of such blunders of the past. Which offers us hope of rich medal haul in Tokyo.

Makori is the Editor (Sports) at Nation Media Group.

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