Female marathoners on the wane

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NAIROBI, Kenya, Oct 26 – As Irene Cherotich etched her name in record books by becoming the first former champion to triumph at the Standard Chartered Nairobi marathon, her win on Sunday highlighted an underlying concern in marathon running in Kenya.IRENE_CHEROTICHWhile the men’s race again has a new champion in Moses Kigen, as well as a variety of newish names including Nathan Naibei and Peter Sitienei who were running in their first ever full marathons in Nairobi, the women’s race was dominated by veterans.

By clinching the 2009 edition, Cherotich added the crown to her 2006 win as well as a second place finish last year making her the most successful athlete in the seven year history of the race.

Second place went to Alice Chelagat-another former winner having won the inaugural race in 2003 while third went to Sharon Cherop who had represented Kenya as far back as the 1999 All Africa Games.

There in lies the problem.

While the men’s race continues to churn out new winners, the women’s race was dominated by veterans and former winners. There was none of the young unknown athletes cropping up.

While we have the likes of Samuel Wanjiru, Evans Cheruiyot, Francis Kiprop, Abel Kirui and Kigen lined up to take over from the likes of Robert ‘Mwafrika’ Cheruiyot, Martin Lel and Luke Kibet, there has been little change in the women’s category.

Catherine Ndereba and Salina Kosgei still remain our best marathoners despite having been around for almost 15 years. Kosgei first burst onto the scene in 2002 while Ndereba has been around since mid nineties!

This is an oddity in a country where athletes are discovered for fun and this lack of fresh talent has seen Kenya’s performances in the big marathons plummet.

This year, only Salina Kosgei has delivered a win in any of the Big Five marathons and there was no Kenyan in the top ten at the World Athletics Championships in Berlin.

That Helena Loshanyang Kirop who was third in Dubai in January this year is the best ranked Kenyan in 15th place in this year’s ranking tells the story and at 33 years old, she is no spring chicken! Compared to the men’s list where 13 of the top 20 are Kenyans.

For some reason, the few who have shown promise have disappeared just as fast.

Martha Komu has been unable to build on her fifth place finish at the Olympics while 2005 Boston marathon winner Rita Jeptoo’s career has gone wayward since that epic win and she is now out on maternity leave.

What makes it all more odd is that on the track, our women have been steadily improved as depicted by Vivian Cheruiyot and Linet Masai’s epic wins at the World Championships.

So why are our road runners lagging behind?

But all hope is not lost yet, World Half Marathon champion Mary Keitany looks promising while the best placed Kenyan in Berlin was Julia Mombi Muraga who is only 24.

Athletics officials must find a long term solution to the problem if the women are to match the achievements of their male counterparts.

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