Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Excellent Adventure in the Politics of Kenyan Athletics

Something strange is afoot at the Circle K, or rather, in Kenyan athletics. First there was a story about some Kenyan marathoners who were AWOL from their national awards ceremony. Apparently there wasn't enough "recognition" to go around, at least in the marathoners' estimation. The Kenyan government shelled out 2.3 million shillings ($33,000 USD) worth of recognition to the runners and coaches of the Kenyan cross-country team, who won the World Cross-Country Championships. The marathoners, having won more than that in prize money at international competitions this past year, were only awarded some microwave ovens. Bogus!

International marathon wins are not as prestigious to Kenyan officials as are World Championships or Olympic medals. Makes sense to me, dude. The marathoners are of a different opinion, however, and threatened to "refuse to represent the country in the Olympics and the Commonwealth Games." No way! Yes way!

Later there was a clear-the-air meeting between Athletics Kenya (AK), Kenya's governing body, and the AWOL marathoners to "avert a selection crisis" for Osaka. We can imagine how the air was cleared during that meeting because AK Secretary-General David Okeyo was already spinning before the meeting started when he talked to reporters about how busy the marathoners' schedules were going to be this year. Finally, we know which marathoners have such busy schedules that they can't show up for the World Championships: marathon world-record (2:04:55) holder Paul Tergat, Martin Lel (London Marathon winner), Robert Cheruiyot (Boston Marathon winner), Felix Limo (3rd at London and winner in 2006) and Joshua Chelanga (Rotterdam Marathon winner). How's it goin', busy dudes?

In the end, all parties involved in the disagreement got busy trying to save face. The marathoners, we're told by Secretary-General Okeyo, blamed contractual obligations on their inability to show up for the 1st or 2nd most important marathon on the planet (the jury is still out on how the IAAF meet compares to the Olympics. Be sure and take the poll on the left-hand side of this page!) and AK's position is that "even our provisional team is composed of very good runners." No lie there. Kenyan runners have run a whopping 194 out of the fastest 389 marathons in 2007. Whoa!

Sadly (as is too often the case in today's culture of greed) the marathoners themselves are the only ones who will lose out. By not showing up at the World Championships, they lose any chance to get more "recognition" (get it, dude?) by the Kenyan governing body this year. Besides, Kenya is such a hotbed of phenomenal running talent that the provisional team is sure to supplant the current crop of Kenyan marathoners. [in unison] Excellent!

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