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Hope, gloom as Kenya eyes slender medal haul

NAIROBI, Kenya, August 11 – In a photograph studio in Kenya’s bustling capital, a line of nearly empty frames are lined up: gold, silver and bronze coloured, it was hoped they would be filled each time a Kenyan won an Olympic medal.

Gold frames proudly show the images of David Rudisha — who on Thursday won the men’s 800m gold in a new world record — and of 3000m steeplechase winner Ezekiel Kemboi, with a smattering of silver and bronze frames filled below.

“These have done well,” said 14-year old James Githae, pointing to the photographs, before adding sadly, “but there are so many empty frames!”

Ahead of the London Olympics, hopes were high that Kenya would win its biggest haul of medals and surpass successes made in Beijing four years ago.

But the projected tally of 20 medals made by the team coaches is drifting far from the team’s reach, as the sporting showpiece draws to its end.

It has been a gloomy talking point for this athletics-loving nation, and the national media has led the way in voicing the genuine concern of many Kenyans.

Rudisha’s stunning win has put some pride back into Kenya.

“Top of the world!” the Daily Nation newspaper titled its full front-page photograph of Rudisha’s win. “King David!” read the headline of The Standard.

But the dailies have directed their criticism at Kenya’s Olympic and athletic officials for their long wrangling in the team’s Olympic preparations, which have led to the perceived under-performance.

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“Burn-out or bad tactics? asked the Daily Nation. “Our officials have let us down terribly and they must do the honourable thing and take the long walk away from managing sport in the country. Period!”

The papers questioned the wisdom of holding the men’s 10,000m trials in the United States, the recent tug-of-war over the pre-games training camp in Bristol, and the general poor tactics employed by the athletes at the games.

Youth athletics coach Colm O’Connell agreed with the sentiments expressed by the newspapers.

The Irish-born coach — trainer of multiple Kenyan champions — says there was a lot to cause instability in the team in the lead up to London.

“Taking the team to Oregon may not have been a good idea. Even during the training camp at Kasarani, the team appeared disjointed as there was no particular training programme to suit each of the athletes.”

The runners however have not been exonerated either, with the media hitting out at them for taking part in too many races overseas.

But the athletes representative, and Sydney Olympic 1500m gold medallist Noah Ngeny defended the runners, saying no Olympic athlete would want to underperform at the Games.

“These are all professional athletes,” Ngeny said. “They know the fame and glory which comes with an Olympic title. No one can agree to go slow.”

Politics aside, many observers believe Kenya, like the other East African nations, has not enough to invest on its athletes.

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“Kenya has limited money and as a result there has been no investment in sports. There are no facilities and structures to develop the talents,” said national rugby administrator Michael Kwambo.

“We can only get sponsors if we get innovative and make the sport attractive for the corporates to come in and invest. That way we will grow,” he added.

Newly-crowned Olympic 3000m steeplechase gold medallist Ezekiel Kemboi has warned that the dynamics of the athletics were fast changing, and Kenya would risk being left behind.

He said Kenya may lose its long preserve in the steeplechase, which dates back to the 1984 Los Angeles Games, as other nations, which did not have any traditional steeplechase running, were challenging Kenya.

“Moroccans and the French are coming up strongly,” said Kemboi on arrival home in Kenya Wednesday, after securing Kenya’s first gold in London.

“Even Ethiopia, which took fourth in London, have warned they are keen to wrest our dominance and it’s just a matter of time,” added the two-time Olympic champion, who has announced his retirement from the steeplechase to compete in the marathon.

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