A commonwealth games Primer, for y’all

Well they are here, and they kind of snuck up on me this round! The club games are set to start in Glasgow, and as usual Kenya has sent a large contingent of track and field athletes looking to continue the gold medal rush from 2010. Believe it or not Kenya has 8 (yes eight!) representatives in the lawn bowls competition!

Anyway this post will start with the stuff Kenya is more known for and drift towards the not so known stuff. So we start with the track, and field events, and the middle and long distance events. This is what Kenya is widely known for as a sporting house all over the world. To the point everyone from spoof energy drink adverts to the Muppets has played on the ‘Kenyans are good at running’ idea.

apparently… ( source: chzbgr.com)

I digress. The bulk of Kenya’s gold medals at the Club games have come on the back of dominating all the track events from 800 metres to the marathon. With the absence of some of the sprint powerhouses (USA) we have even won the odd medal at the 400 metres events.

This round a lot of the usual suspects will be at the Glasgow event. The headliners are obviously David Rudisha (current world record holder) at the 800m, Silas Kiplagat in the men’s 1500m, as well as Milcah Chemos a perennial force in the women’s steeplechase event.

They lead a host of names who have built a name for themselves among something of a ‘golden generation’ for Kenyan athletics in track events all over the world in the past decade in particular. Did you know that only one non-Kenyan has won a medal of any kind in the men’s steeplechase at the club games since 1994?

In addition to them there are the upcoming talents of Jarius Birech (who has dominated in this year’s diamond league events) and Mercy Cherono.
In the field event, perhaps Julius Yego, the YouTube man could deliver on his immense promise and medal. He has a top 3 finish in diamond league, so I will be keeping an eye on that.

Then there is boxing. Kenya has a tradition in producing high quality of amateur boxers that have scored medals on a regular basis, at commonwealth and other global competitions (RIP Robert Wangila). However with several decades of neglect, even downright cynical exploitation of boxers, the idea of a Kenya boxer, medalling at these games would be more a welcome relief than a serious expectation. This year’s squad features young men who have shown some fight ‘pun intended’ at international competition.

There is lot of expectation (they have a nice hype machine) being placed on Kenya’s rugby sevens squad. Not surprising because of how they have delivered beyond rational expectations on several occasions, against the world’s best on the IRB circuit, but also because they are generally the most well ordered team sport administration in Kenya behind them.

However, whereas, in some vents (LOOKING AT YOU TRACK AND FIELD) the commonwealth games can be said to be a dilution of talent, on the rugby field it’s more like a concentration of the best in the field. New Zealand, Fiji, Australia, England, South Africa, all have very well funded fully professional rugby machinery behind their teams, not to mention the hosts Scotland are no slouches at rugby.

In the Jason Dunford swimming event, Kenya has a host of fresh young talent, who this blogger hopes will be more than just escorting the Dunford men to gold medal glory.

Some months ago a certain South African minister insinuated that Kenya (or countries like Kenya send swimmers out to global competitions to drown in the pool. Now is the chance to tell Hon Mbalula with actions as well as words where he can go put his words.

On to the lesser known events I spoke of ‘fighting’ earlier in this post Kenya will also have representation in the Judo, event, for the first time in 12? Years, there will be Kenyans in the triathlon ands well as in the road and mountain biking events.

Maybe there is another Chris Froome in the making? These events may to the casual (read cynical) fan seem to be excess baggage on the road, but with a bit of vision just being there may be the beginning our nation becoming really good at the global stage. As the good book says, plant both in the morning and in the evening, for you do not know which will produce a harvest (or something like that)

Anyway in wrapping up this post, I want to wish the men and women flying the flag all the best, timely allowances and kits and mostly that the record haul of medals in Delhi 2010 may be surpassed.

#London2012: Picking up the Pieces.

First things first. Despite all the outpouring of grief in the media (old and new) medalwise Kenya’s showing in the just concluded London Olympics is far from being the worst showing Kenya has had at an olympics. 2 golds, 4 silver and 4 bronze actually compares favourably with most of Kenya’s showings at these over the past 2 decades. In fact it is way better than what whe could manage in the Atlanta Olympics of 1996. Perhaps it is the emphatic nature in which several track runners (coming into the games as strong contenders) came up short so spectacularly that did it. Perhaps It’s all the reports of gross incompetence on the part of NOCK officials (see reprint of Elias Makori post), of pool or boxing ring as the case might apply. Perhaps the glory of what happened in Beijing four years ago that caused us as fans to have unrealistic expectations. Maybe it was even a certain Athletics Kenya Honcho declaring Kenya would return with 12 gold medals on National television. All in all, however as good or bad as Kenya’s results at the Olympics were, empirically, the knives are already out and in due course, heads will very likely roll. Right, let get straight into the results, event by event, where Kenya had representatives. Firstly, Athletics (track and field) and the marathon. These events, as usual, delivered all of Kenya’s medals, with the unbeaten streak in the men’s steeple chase continuing into another Olympiad. Ezekiel Kemboi delivered gold and was almost literally on the next plane back to Kenya. Then there was David Rudisha, not only winning the men’s 800m title but breaking his own world record in a final where he pushed the pace so hard he forced 7 of the 8 other competitors in the final to break their own personal best times. Silver medals came from: Abel Kirui and Priscah Jeptoo in the marathon, Sally Kipyego in the womens 10000m, and Vivian Cheruiyot in the womens 5000m. The bronze medalists were Timothy Kitum 800m, Abel Mutai in the steeplechase (both hardly out their teens), Thomas Longosiwa and Vivian Cheruiyot. In the men’s 5k, and women’s 10k respectively. In the shorter track events, Kenya had representation in the 400m flat, and hurdles, and they had a team in the men’s 4x400m relay. None made it into the finals of their respective events and the less we talk about the collision in the men’s relay the better. Kenya’s sole field athlete, Julius Yego in the javelin throw, though finishing 12th, was th first competitor from Africa to feature in the finals of this event. This blogger hopes his example can be in inspiration to several others in the sport right across the continent. Off the track, Kenya had only a handful of entries across the entire spectrum of Olympic sports. There were 2 boxers, one man and one woman. Both were eliminated in the 1st round. How far has this event fallen since Robert Wangila delivered Africa’s first boxing gold in 1988. There were the Dunford brothers in the pool. David, the younger falling in the heats of both the 50m and 100m freestyle, and Jason, coming up short in an extremely difficult butterfly 100m semifinal. Finally there was Elizabeth Andiego who competed in the weightlifting, as a wild card entry. I hope the experience she had will lead her to more success in future events. As far as disappointment goes, it is in the track events, where i was felt most. Kenya did not medal in the 800m women’s race (where we had the defending champ) and the men’s 1500m (where we Kenya’s entries were the 3 fastest athletes in the discipline this year). On top of that there’s the agonizing way gold in both men’s and women’s marathon’s slipped away in the last few kilometres of the races. Factor in the rise of Mo Farah and the return to form of Ethiopia’s Tirunesh Dibaba and Meseret Defar in the long distances, and the result was frustration and disappointment for team Kenya. All in all though much of the fallout over the games will revolve around the middle and long distance races, and that some long overdue changes might be made to the way non-athletes have too much unchecked power over how well the actual competitors can prepare for things like the olympics, my concern is that without genuine competitiveness off the track, Kenya may have already hit their high water mark in terms of Olympic medal hauls. If that is the best measure of Olympics performance.

#London2012: Kenya’s team to the Olympics Part 1.

Over the weekend Athletics Kenya held its trials for the upcoming London 2012 olympics. Given Kenya’s massive over-reliance on middle and long distance track events for olympics success, this pretty much amounted to Kenya’s olympic trials. Several other teams, ranging from taekwondo to tabletennis to women’s volleyball, tried and failed to get into the olympics team events. So at the end of the day Kenya has a grand total of 5 competitors looking to try win olympic gold by means other than running fast. Away from the doom and gloom, this blogger reckons that Kenya’s current crop of track stars is about as strong as any that has ever been sent out to an olympic games. They will be looking to match Kenya’s most successful olympics on the track, Beijing, where athletes won all of Kenya’s record 6 gold medals. They will also be doing so without the aid of 3 of the 6 gold medallists. This post will focus on the shorter events on the track (4×400-1500). We start with the 4×400 metre relay. Kenya will be fielding a team consisting of: David Rudisha, Mark Mutai, Anderson Mureta and Vincent Kosgei. In this event Kenya has had at least 2 Olympic silver medals over the years, the first coming in 1968 in Mexico City, where incidentaly a certain Daniel Rudisha (father of current 800m world record holder David) contested. The biggest story around this year’s lot is the much anticipated but still highly unlikely contest between David Rudisha and Jamaican sprint sensation Usain Bolt. Though in truth Kenya does not have the sprint pedigree of some of the other more illustrious nations, this squad should not be denied at the very least the status of dark horses. At least 2 of the 4 were part of Kenya’s success in the commonwealth games and with all th drama that can happen in the relay…I’ll let you put two and two together. On to the next event: the 800 metres. Kenya goes into the London olympics defending both the men’s and women’s titles, thanks to the efforts of Wilfred Bungei and Pamela Jelimo. Bungei will not be able to defend his title, having faded from the spotlight, but Kenya’s eight for the men’s gold should be in safe hands with world record holder David Rudisha, heading a very young and competitive trio. He’ll be joined by Job Kinyor and Timothy Kitum, both products of Kenya’s schools athletics competitions, who are really just stepping onto the senior circuit this year. Having seen off such battle hardened veterans as multiple world championship medallist Alfred Kirwa Yego, just to get into the team, these young men should be more than capable of supporting Rudisha when push comes to shove on the track. In the women’s race, Pamela Jelimo will be hoping to recall her suprise emergence in the 2008 olympics, with a successful title defence following a suprise return to form. Having all but vanished from elite running over the past year or so, she came out and won the world indoor 800m title in style. Then she went and backed it up with a number of barnstorming runs on the Diamond League circuit, to see her re-established as one of the favourites for gold. Winnie Chebet and former world champion Janeth Jepkosgei will also be looking to get into the medal bracket of what will be a rather competitive field. Moving on to the 1500 metres event, one would be suprised how bare Kenya’s gold medal cabinet is given the convinous flow, especially on the mens side, of world class talent in this distance. Once again Kenya will be defending both the men’s and women’s titles in London. In the men’s team defending champion Asbel Kiprop was actually beaten by both his colleagues, Silas Kiplagat and Nixon Chepseba at the national trials. Such is the evenness of competition in this particular group. In the women’s team, the absence of defending olympic champion Nancy Jelagat, leaves a rather large vacuum for a fairly young group of athletes to fill. Of the three Hellen Obiri is the most accomplished, having won the 1500m indoor title, earlier in the year. Faith Chepngetich, has multiple accolades at age group levels, but this will be her first go at the senior olympics. The third member of the team, Eunice Sum, certainly has talent but has yet to taste outright victory against the standard of competition Kenya will face to keep the gold medal at home. In the next post I’ll be looking at the athletes representing Kenya in the long distances and the marathon.