NAIROBI, April 4 – The decision by athletics head coach, Julius Kirwa and his two assistants, John ‘Warm-up’ Mwithiga and David Letting to call time on their stint at the helm World Cross could after all not be the classic case of throwing in the towel.It is becoming apparent that the trio are being left with no choice but to jump ship after strained relations between them and Athletics Kenya (AK) reached a boil investigations by Capital Sports reveal.
We can reveal the coaches had been mulling over quitting the World Cross team even before this year’s edition in Amman but decided to stay on for one last push to secure Kenya the elusive senior men and women individual titles.
And two of them, Kirwa and Letting have also pondered relinquishing their coaching duties for the national track team as well in the face of what they term as ‘difficult working conditions.’
Before the squad left for the Jordanian capital, Kirwa intimated to this website a ‘major announcement’ upon their return.
“Some things happening to this team are not good for their preparations. It is becoming very difficult to manage the athletes and get the best out of them but for now the focus is to win all the four individual titles,” Kirwa said then.
As the team prepared for their assignment in Amman literally behind closed doors at St Mark Teachers Training College after AK enforced a media ban, trouble simmered as the athletes and the federation clashed over a variety of issues.
The stand-off left the coaches caught between a rock and a hard place, keen to represent the interests of both their employers and charges.
“We received our competition and training equipment very late. Some of us had to share training shoes after those bought from downtown Nairobi proved to be useless and caused many of us blistered,” a senior athlete said.
Ten days before the team departed for Amman, regional anti-doping officials visited the camp and all athletes were asked to take drug tests using urine samples, an exercise that spilled past midnight and some runners complained about harsh treatment from the medics.
“It is also common to be tested for drugs out of competition but to force the whole team to go through dope testing made us uneasy. Why were they suspecting any of us?” our source questioned.
“That is okay,” replied AK chairman, Isaiah Kiplagat when asked about the matter adding, “They can test selected runners or the whole team. I don’t see why they are uncomfortable with it.”
Last Monday as the squad for Amman World Cross returned, the coaches faced a nation demanding reasons behind Kenya’s indifferent performance where once again bitter rivals Ethiopia ruled the roost.
“I promised Kenya’s all individual titles and it did not happen. I am sorry especially for not winning the men’s 12km gold medal. I believed this was our year,” a visibly disappointed Kirwa explained.
It was left to his assistant, Mwithiga to make the announcement: “We are requesting AK to consider appointing other coaches for next year’s World Cross. We feel that we have done enough in our successful stay and we cannot stay on forever.
“The federation can also consider introducing new faces to the coaching staff and phase us out to give them a chance to learn from us the secrets of our success and improve on them,” Mwithiga stated.
In a subtle but blatant attack on the federation, the coach who has been with the World Cross team for five years charged, “We need to improve on our preparations for future events, like sending someone to the venue in advance to report to the coaches what to expect.”
In response, AK general secretary, David Okeyo, ruled out commenting on the matter saying, “It is too early to discuss on appointing the coach for next year’s World Cross. We will only speak on the issue when the coaches submit a written request to relinquish their positions to us.”
It transpired that an official, Lawrence Miano was sent on a reconnaissance mission to Amman but failed to report to the coaches and when this was brought up, top AK officials kept silent over the matter.
“The course maps and other information on Jordan were posted on the internet and this facility was not availed to us. So we went on with our programme using the knowledge we had on Amman which ended up being not correct,” Kirwa said.
He explained: “We trained in the hot Mwea and Siakago regions but when we arrived in Amman, the weather was so cold. The course was bad and hilly with hard surface since they had pressed sand on it with an earth mover. It saw two of my best runners injured and the rest affected by the cold.”
Kenya’s best hope for 12km gold, Moses Mosop suffered a recurrence of the Achilles injury that had laid him off action for a year while 2006 World Cross junior champion, Mangata Ndiwa was tripped in the fourth laps, suffering a huge gush below his right knee.
Both had been conditioned to anchor the men’s long race team push for gold in the closing stages of the race but ended up in positions 11 and 14.
But coach Kirwa was the first to admit that a punishing course and injuries to top runners was not a valid excuse and instead, pointed fingers at the bigwigs in AK.
“We have made many recommendations that are never adhered to. Sometimes it is hard to know how they (federation officials) operate. For instance, we went there and found the head of coaching at AK (Daniel Muchoki) training South Africa,” Kirwa observed.
“He is the chairman of our selecting panel and would hold important information on our team and what we are planning. Another, Boniface Tiren, was training Bahrain and we have worked with him before. What else about our team goes out there?” he rhetorically posed.
“I will tell the whole story but for now, I need to rest with my family after being away for so long,” he added promising to reveal more damning information about his rocky tenure at the helm of the World Cross and track national teams.
Keep it posted here.