Kenyans, and indeed the world, is still savoring the sterling performances by some of the world’s greatest marathoners in history.
The country once again stamped its authority as a global sporting powerhouse in long races following Eliud Kipchoge’s victory at this year’s edition of the London Marathon which catapulted him to become the first man to win the event four times and set a new course record in the process.
In the elite-ladies category, Kenya stomped to the finish line in style with 2018 London Marathon runner-up Brigid Kosgei crossing the finish line first, subsequently ousting the defending champion and fellow citizen Vivian Cheruiyot.
The stakes for this year’s London marathon were high as organizers of the event leveraged on the media hype over the debut of a British distance runner Mo Farah into the race. The 36-year-old is branded as the most successful British track athlete in modern Olympic Games history, for his exploits in both the 5000meters and 10,000meters categories.
He was projected as Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge’s greatest competitor in the latter’s quest to win his fourth consecutive title in the same event. The hype never worked as the Briton was relegated to a distant fifth place with Kenya and Ethiopia dominating both the men and ladies’ races.
One key development two days to the event, however, threatened to dent the Kenyan spirit in a race that had attracted the world’s attention. This is after World Half Marathon record holder Abraham Kiptum was provisionally suspended by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU) for an Athlete Biological Passport violation. This is despite the fact that the Kenyan elite athlete had registered and was cleared to participate in the race prior to his theatrical suspension two days after featuring in the photo sessions at the iconic London Bridge.
News of Kiptum’s suspension on the eve of the marathon spread like wildfire and the world’s attention was unexpectedly cast the Kenyan way for the wrong reasons. Unbeknown to many, the same AIU that sensationally claimed to have provisionally suspended Kiptum is the same body that had cleared him to participate in the race.
The reason for their beating a hasty retreat and in the process projecting the country negatively at the global sporting arena remains a mystery. But it is a pointer to the long-held conviction by many an athletics fans that Kenya’s dominance in long distance races for decades is beginning to cause discomfort in some quarters.
A day after the sterling performance by Kenyan and Ethiopian athletes in the marathon, a London-based media outlet, The Daily Mail, published a controversial opinion piece. It cast aspersions on the recent developments in long distance running especially given that Kenya and Ethiopia are placed in ‘Category A’ of the IAAF’s listing alongside other nations such as Belarus and Ukraine which stand the greatest risk of doping. In the end the article seemed to insinuate that the performances by Eliud and other long-distance runners ought to be taken with a pinch of salt.
Mischief can be read over the timing of Kiptum’s provisional suspension from athletics by the AIU during the London Marathon. This is especially since they had given him a clean bill of health to participate in the race on the grounds that the athlete was not facing any prosecution in court over an anti-Doping Rule Violation.
This far, neither Athletics Kenya (AK) nor the government has protested the move preferring instead to remain mute. While the integrity of an athlete is a personal decision, dramatizing their sanctions, bans or provisional suspensions affects a whole country especially in a case such as Kenya’s.
Sports is without a doubt one of the greatest contributors to the country’s economy through various functions such as corporate funding, sports tourism and youthful engagement in sports through harnessing talent.
The continued obliteration of our sporting prowess through systemic and calculated propaganda moves will only dent the country’s image further. As things currently stand, Kenya’s athletes are among the world’s most tested due to the ability to participate in various activities within short periods of time.
While all this was happening, drama was unfolding back home where disgraced and embattled 1500m Olympic Champion Asbel Kiprop had threatened to take his life. Despite being slapped with a four-year ban for the alleged use of blood booster Erythropoietin to enhance his performance on the track, the athlete has continued to claim his innocence on social media. He has turned into the poster-boy for social effects of doping as evidenced by his untoward behavior off the pitch following his suspension and eventual sanction.
(Mwangi is a Communications Specialist)