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Training with champions – Rongai Athletics Club

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Rongai Athletics club head coach Bernard Ouma has a chat with his athletes during a training session at the Gems Cambridge International School in Rongai. PHOTO/Moses Muoki

NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 22 – It is around 3pm and the simmering afternoon sun has spread its rays across the Gems Cambridge International School.

The few trees in the vicinity provide a tranquil breeze that cools down the tartan track as it readies to welcome the stomping feet of present and future world beaters.

Just about 3:30pm the rattling gate at the Sports Complex disturbs the quiet and in comes renowned athletics coach Bernard Ouma.

Minutes later, Timothy Cheruiyot, Alphas Kishoyian, Elijah Manangoi, his younger brother George, Winny Chebet among others follow suit.

It is the beginning of yet another tough training regime for the Rongai Athletics camp (RAC).

Coach Ouma, holder of a Masters Degree in Sports Science from Budapest, Hungary meticulously arranges his cones on the tartan track, a clearly outlined program of his training schedule, as his athletes change into training gear.

There’s no time to waste as the athletes come down to the track and engage in a few warm up routines before the rigorous part of the training starts.

“We are doing three in 36!” Ouma shouts from the middle of the track, alerting his athletes they will be doing speed runs over 300m in 36 seconds.

For middle and long distance athletes, this is blistering pace.

Rongai Athletics club head coach Bernard Ouma has a chat with 1500m World Champion Elijah Manangoi during a training session at the Gems Cambridge International School in Rongai. PHOTO/Moses Muoki

“Good performance is about a good training program and a good training program is the product of a good coach,” Ouma jokes as he gears up for the afternoon session.

Just last year, the camp located in Rongai Town a few kilometres off the capital city Nairobi produced three medallists – two at the IAAF World Championships in London and one in the World Under-18 Championships in Nairobi.

Manangoi led Cheruiyot to a one-two finish at the London World Champs while his younger brother George breezed to victory in Nairobi in the Youth Championships.

“2017 was a memorable year for us because getting three medallists and an overall Diamond League winner is no mean task. I remember that day very well in London and it was such an emotional moment for us,” Ouma says, reflecting on that famous evening in London.

The dominance by RAC over 1500m was not a feat achieved overnight. It took years of hard work, patience and persistence and finally, the fruits have begun to show.

Started in October 2006, RAC will be celebrating 12 years of existence this year and we went down to find out just what makes this camp tick when most renowned athletes have been known to train and put up their paces in the North Rift.

– The birth of RAC –

“We used to have a training group in Rongai at the Multi Media University. At some point, I got a stress fracture injury and I was out for eight months. In that period, one of the guys called me and informed me that the group was scattering and we needed to do something,” Ouma explains.

Rongai Athletics Club athletes hurdle together for a team photo after a training session at the Gems Cambridge International School in Rongai. PHOTO/Moses Muoki

“I went back, sat down with them and that’s how Rongai Athletics Club was born,” he adds.

Ouma explains to Capital Sport that the camp started in 2006 as his own Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) program to help talented athletes from needy families.

But why Rongai, and not Iten, Kaptagat, Eldoret or Ngong as most athletes do?

“My training philosophy is different from others. If you look at Rongai, it is 1725m above sea level in altitude, you don’t need higher than that when training middle distance athletes,” the coach explains.

He adds; “I did my research with scientists from Japan then we settled for Rongai. It is not crowded, we are quite few which is good and concentration goes up. It is not congested and the atmosphere itself is very clean, it is an ideal area for me, this is working for us.”

Their training day begins early in the morning at the African Nazarene University where they do a minimum 12km morning run across the hilly terrain overlooking the Nairobi National Park with Ouma towing behind them bellowing instructions on a motorbike.

After the morning run is when they switch to track training, concentration here being on running techniques and tactics as well as speed work.

Rongai Athletics Club athletes warm up before a training session at the Gems Cambridge International School in Rongai. PHOTO/Moses Muoki

“I use a lot of sports science in my training and I can say that is the secret. We not only run around the track but manage the athletes’ diet, sleep patterns and all,” Ouma says.

The IAAF Level Two accredited coach, second degree karate black belt holder and also holder of a Diploma in International Coaching insists that the DNA of his camp and coaching style is discipline.

“I have been here for the last seven years and I can say that coach Ouma has really helped me. I finally won a World Championship last year as well as the overall Diamond League crown and all this is down to the training we have been put through here,” Manangoi disclosed.

“He is a very serious coach, he knows what he is doing and above all, he knows how to get the best out of an athlete,” added the World Champion.

His younger brother George attests much to this: “I just trained with coach Ouma for a year and I was already a different athlete. I learnt so much from him and the other athletes as well, including my brother,” the 18-year-old says.

Ouma discloses that for him, coaching is more of a wholesome job; he is the coach on the field, their father out of the track, dietician and disciplinarian.

“We are a close knit family and we do everything together, more or less from a ground of mutual understanding. We are a small group and therefore managing it is very easy as well,” Ouma noted.

He has 37 athletes at his camp and he says he picks at least two every year, mostly from less fortunate families. The only new experienced face in the camp currently is 400m athlete Alphas Kishoyian who hopes he can burst out with Ouma’s tough training program.

“This is more like my 10 per cent sacrifice. I use a lot of money to bring in young athletes and that gives me satisfaction especially after a while when I see them succeeding,” the coach notes.

Camp captain Tom Lemurt says more champions should be expected from the camp especially with the load of work being put in this year.

Rongai Athletics Club athletes warm up before a training session at the Gems Cambridge International School in Rongai. PHOTO/Moses Muoki

“Coach Ouma is a great coach because since I came here in 2012, I have improved a lot. Before coming here I was running 200m before he told me to switch to 400m and 800m and hopefully I am going to succeed in this,” he says.

Ouma is confident as much that in the near future, the camp will be producing at least one breakout athlete each year.

“We will get more champions along the way. The young athletes who have come in have picked up very well. Watch out for them,” the coach adds.

The tactician admits the challenge of nipping in the bud the vice of doping but has assured that his camp will not entertain such and any athletes found to have contravened their strict codes will be immediately struck off.

“If you see an element of doping in a group, it is a deficiency of training. Everybody wants to achieve their dreams; the bridge between dreams and success is discipline that comes in training. If you start getting shortcuts, that’s indiscipline,” he says adding; “Doping can be avoided if the athletes’ expectations are managed well.”

Ouma’s camp will be in action in the World Indoor Tour and World Indoor Championship starting in February, while the big one lies ahead in April, the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia. Will he churn out more champions? Only time will tell.

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