What makes for a Winning Combination?

By Richard Wanjohi

France - World Cup 2018 Winners
France – World Cup 2018 Winners

Starter

End of July and two World Cups down, what a year this is turning out to be! Starting with the more recent one, New Zealand men’s and ladies team both took home the butter by winning their respective titles at the Rugby Sevens’ World Cup held in San Francisco’s Bay Area in US.

Analysts had pinned hopes on Fiji or South Africa bringing their circuit experience but that didn’t count for anything. Add Kenya’s showing at the tournament and yes, dismal at its best – seeing as the Shujaa finishing 16th of the 24 teams.

The other more famous tournament is FIFA’s World Cup, this year played in Russia which saw European teams continue their dominance with a 4th win on the trot over the South American and other fancied teams.

This is with the French national team affectionately known as Les Bleus knocking Croatia 4-2 in one of the more entertaining Finals in recent history. Scores of fans across the world have christened this a win for Africa or indeed immigration…that’s not for us to say.

In the same period of the month, I was privileged to attend the third Rugby Conference which brings together stakeholders (sic) in the game of rugby within the country held at the Strathmore University. The theme of the sitting was aptly named ‘The Challenge of Winning’ – as christened by the host sports body Kenya Rugby Union.

This conference came on the back of a successful season 2017-18 for the Union which saw Kenya finish in the top 8 of the rugby series, the Kenyan women’s team win the Rugby Africa tournament, the 15-a-side team inching closer to a World Cup place in 2019 – all well and done for a sports association.

These 3 events got me thinking of what makes a winning combination. Does it come from a strong team riding roughshod over its opponents? Does it come from the scientific approach that have seen technology and other aspects of sports science come into play? Is it sheer luck or hunches by the respective team managers and team leaders?

Let’s take a deep dive:

Talent vs Team

In the now famous 2018 World Cup Final, football purists got their minds warped as the favoured teams started falling out as early as the first round. The Finals had a premiere appearance by the Croatian team. The tournament only one game which went goalless, missing out on the goals scored thanks to the exhausting extra-time games in the knock-out phases.

Many pundits attributed the fall of Argentina, Germany and even African teams on the lack of integration of the wealth of talent into the team structure. To paraphrase renowned management consultant Sunny Bindra in his weekly column, “…to win in football ( or any collective, team-based endeavor), four ingredients are necessary: first, a great ethos and shared sense of purpose; second, a ‘groove’ – a familiar and competent system of play (no matter what it is); third, some outstanding talent in key places; and lastly, great leadership, on and off the playing arena” – article titled Another World Cup; a Familiar Four-factor Theory We Can Apply –  Sunday Nation, 22nd July 2018.

Does this sound like something our teams do often? Does it reflect even both at our team and individual sport (where the ‘larger’ team consists of the coach, physiologist, team manager et al)?

Pre-tournament favourites’ slowly become post-tournament laughing stock. Individuals’ talent becomes anathema as experienced teams fall on the way side.

Image courtesy of www.back-post.com
Image courtesy of www.back-post.com

Sports science and Core competencies

Still with the football World Cup, a case has been made as to why it may take African teams longer to ever play or even win the trophy. While we harp on the strength and stamina of many a footballer from Africa, beyond this is a mental and physiological game which is played both on and off the pitch.

In Kenyan rugby scene, we have heard beliefs and whispers of how the game cannot cross to ‘non-traditional players’ from communities without a certain DNA or body stature. It is not for us to determine that here. But if the game of rugby in Kenya is to have a brighter future and pool of talent, this cannot fly.

In today’s sporting world, while the natural talent and flair may count for much, sports science shows that investing in the right nutrition, right training regime, right core competencies and attitude – such investment can go a long way in nurturing and growing nascent talent.

Big Data and Sports

In 2014, when Germany won the World Cup in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, data analysts and tech enthusiasts were harping on how the use of big data did help it secure the win. All fair and square. What happened in 2018, albeit with even more advancements and appreciated use of data?

Perhaps I should put a disclaimer here, I’m not in any way against the use of data but this cannot be done in a void and is one of the other components needed in a winning team. As part of a winning process, start the use of data to lay a foundation, build upon it and also track performances across all spheres of performance both on and off the pitch.

I’ll take us back to the Rugby Conference where one Paul Odera – head coach of the Under-20s rugby national team gave a thought-provoking presentation on ‘Towards the U-20 World (Championships) – Process then Individuals’. In one part of the presentation, he underscored the use of data to track junior rugby players from the hours of sleep they get, food and nutrition habits, training and conditioning regimes among others.

He indicated this helps his management team understand not just the physical preparedness of the player but also his/her mental and psychological state way before they touch the ball on the pitch. It is instructive that this happens from a very basic level to ensure the team members are able to develop this self-discipline early in their careers.

How many sports teams and individuals are willing to go minutiae for a winning formula?

Sheer hunch or sheer luck?

In the 2018 World Cup Final, a number of football pundits captured on TV went ham on the refereeing decisions made which led to the first and second goals for France. It may or may have contributed to changing the course of the game.

But I usually argue, the opposing team has at least 90 minutes to score any number of goals they may muster. Why do we look for excuses, reasons one or the other as to why teams lose games? What with the Video Assisted-Refereeing making its debut in a major tournament. This will indeed impact the game of football in a big way in the near future.

But then again, to what extent can we attribute the French win to a fortuitous header by a Croatian striker? An innocent spin of the hand by an experienced Croatian defender? We never know what luck the French may have on the day, but they sure did take full advantage of it.

As a sports association, FIFA and the host nation Russia have scored major points with a largely successful tournament. How does FIFA manage to hold us captive every four years? Scoring major sponsorship deals (or partnerships as it were) as well as secure top dollar with TV and media rights in the process.

Why can’t Football Kenya Federation learn a thing or two from the parent association? Having changed its structure and elected officials a few years ago, there is nothing much to write home about. We have had many start-stop attempts at qualifying for continental challenges at a national team level. The consolation is a win of the regional cup CECAFA. Other than that, Harambee Stars has no official sponsor – from shirt, apparel to major endorsements even when a number of players ply their trade in Europe.

Supposition

In Asia, major countries including China, India and China have made very deliberate efforts to invest in sports. From infrastructure to engaging major sports associations as well as youth programmes to grow different sports disciplines. This goes beyond their traditional sports such as sumo and cricket to mainstream ones in athletics, basketball and football.

We have seen how they have exerted their influence has been with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and FIFA.  In the just concluded World Cup, both Japan and South Korea challenged the top teams and while they may have lost by a goal or on a technicality, the future does look bright.

Major European football clubs have added Asia as a must-stop locale before the start of each season. Whether it is commercializing the various sports properties or bringing the individuals closer to their fans, this is bound to serve as an allure for local leagues and teams.

Add the media investment and audience reach – the Asian audiences have been growing in double digits in the last 5 years. Mix it up with the budding local league scenes and home-grown players and talent pools, it is bound to be a potent combination to a winning strategy.

No to Rio 2016 ? Zika Virus, Boycotts, Controversies and all that appertains to the Olympic Games

This year is surely not disappointing with its drama-filled headlines and issues around sport. The biggest one at the moment is the Zika Virus which is seen as Brazil’s latest hurdle in hosting the largest multi-sports bonanza.

Rio 2016 

While Brazilian authorities have been battling with polluted waters along the Rio shoreline ( as well as diminishing commodity prices, the Zika virus has shaken the very essence of the Games threatening it with boycotts or no-shows by major sporting nations.

Many have even brewed conspiracies such as;
Whatever the case, the impact of the pandemic will surely be felt at the Summer Olympics to be held in Rio in just under 6 months. Even Kenyan sports administrators have mixed feelings of attending the Games with some calling for tighter safeguards or else, while others insist on participating in the spirit of the Games.
Never before have the Olympic Games looked at risk of missing the largest gathering of nations since 1984. Speaking of missing the Games, we shall take a cursory look at some of the Games which either didn’t take place or were mired in controversy, leading to boycotts or low attendance.
1916 Berlin Games logo – courtesy
1916: The VI Olympiad at the Berlin Games in Germany – with the world tottering towards an arms race thanks in part to the German empire and emerging disquiet in parts of Europe, the Games were not held. This is to avoid endorsement of the German Reich as the Games had suddenly become important social and political platforms. 
1940 and 1944 XII and XIII Olympiad in Tokyo-Japan (then Helsinki-Finland) – by now the dalliance of the Games with political and warring regimes seemed to be buttressed. While Japan had won the rights to host the Games, it got into war with its larger (and by then less developed neighbour) China in the 2nd Sino-Japanese War. The IOC hastily awarded the Games to Helsinki, Finland only for the cold weather to rule the Games completely off. Given the 1940 Games debacle, the World War II meant that no Games were held in 1944, though the Summer Games had been awarded to the Britain’s London. 
Kenyan Olympic team 1956 – image courtesy of Kenya Archives
1956 XVI Olympiad in Melbourne, Australia ( and Stockholm, Sweden) – these Games had two hosts thanks to the quarantine of livestock and animals meaning the equestrian events – horse jumping were held in Stockholm. The rest of the world or what remained after the boycott of the Chinese Republic, England, Iraq, Lebanon, Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland to make a statement of their political positions. See it’s a joke when the virus is on the loose…. 
Kenya participated in its first Olympic Games though still as a British colony. This was one year after the establishment of the National Olympic Committee Kenya (NOCK). This would be the only Games that Kenya never won a single medal too (thus far, yaiks…)
1976 XXI Olympiad in Montreal, Canada – Tanzania managed to rally 22 other African states to boycott the Games ( including our very own Kenyan state). This was due to New Zealand’s rugby team the All Blacks tour of South Africa , which was still suspended from the Games due to its apartheid system of governance. This meant the world was denied the exploits of one Henry Rono among other top athletes and sports personalities of that time. 
1976 Montreal memento – courtesy of www.olympics.com
The Games also were occasioned by one of the largest debts ever to hit  host city which was finally repaid 30 years later in 2006. They also had one weird mascot – don’t know whether it was a beaver but it surely doesn’t inspire much confidence.
1980 XXII Olympiad in Moscow, (then USSR) – The height of boycotts had reached its zenith and the US led about 62 nations into boycotting the Games in the Russian city. This was to protest the USSR’s invasion of Afghanistan. Although some were in solidarity with the boycott, others were undergoing economic hardships thanks to unstable fuel prices and commodity prices of the late 1970s. The UK was part of the boycott though it sent its athletes under a neutral flag. 
Some of the countries that boycotted the Games ended up participating at the Liberty Bell Classic or Olympic Boycott Games – mainly the athletics disciplines. Kenya participated in these and won two gold medals in the 400m ( Billy Konchellah) and 5000m (Kip Rono) as well as silver in the 4 X 400m Men’s Relay.
Julius Korir – courtesy of sporting-page.net
1984 XXIII Olympiad in Los Angeles, USA – To return the favour for the 1980 Games, the USSR and its 14 ‘satellite states’ including Angola, Cuba, East Germany, Ethiopia and Zimbabwe to name but a few decided to boycott. Though the boycott did not achieve much it also led to a similar parallel Games in the form of Friendship Games – sponsored by one exuberant media magnate in the form of Ted Turner. Kenya only participated in the Los Angeles Games after coming off an attempted coup in 1982 and a bruising election in 1983. The team’s performance was dismal with only one gold medal in Julius Korir’s 3000m steeplechase triumph.
1988 XXXIV Olympiad in Seoul, South Korea – The tumultuous 80s would mark the last of the Games boycotts but surely not without controversies. North Korea boycotted for not being considered as part-host of the Games. Albania, Cuba, Ethiopia. Madagascar, Nicaragua and Seychelles all boycotted for various reasons. The Games would also be the last that East Germany participated as a single state as it would merge with the West Germany to form the Federal Democratic state of Germany. USSR would also participate for the last time as a union of soviet states as it broke in 1989 after the collapse of the union under Pres. Mikhail Gorbachev.
Kenya had one of its best outings winning five gold medals including Africa’s first ever gold medal in boxing – with the late Robert Wangila Napunyi winning in the welterweight while Chris Sande won bronze in the middleweight. The athletics field had 4 gold including Paul Ereng (800m), Peter Rono (1500m), Julius Kariuki (3000m steeplechase) and John Ngugi (5000m).
The Games were also marked by the biggest scandal in doping with the positive testing of Ben Johnson who had won the 100m in record time then of 9:79 secs ahead of everyone else. He would be banned for life from the Games. 
The Games also marked the first time an openly gay athlete was forced to disclose his HIV-positive status in rather odd and almost tragic circumstances. Read more on Greg Louganis’s diving exploits at the Olympics

These but a few  are some of the many controversies that have dogged the Games. We do hope that this time round there will be no boycotts and the concerns of health and general environmental state of the city of Rio are addressed in time before the Games. Who would want to ruin what would surely be one Samba party to remember? 

For quick Qs and As on the Zika Virus check out this link by WHO.  

Paul Tergat nominated to head National Olympic Committee-Kenya…Good Choice

Having served to the mandatory age of 70 years, Kipchoge Keino is calling it a day at the helm of the  National Olympic Committee of Kenya. He held office since 2000 after taking over from then beleaugered Charles Mukora who had resigned after the Salt Lake City games debacle that rocked the IOC. In the 12 years at helm, Mr. Kip Keino has managed the best and one of the worst of performances by a Kenyan team in country’s Olympic history. The most recent bad performance in London is one sticking point.
The speed-cop has also managed to keep steady the NOC-K but being a semi-independent sports body from the local national sports federations and associations, it has not been an easy task. His regular spats with the one of the most powerful sports association Athletics Kenya for example is another of the unforgiving jobs he had to do while as NOC-K Chair.
We shall not enumerate his major undertakings as Chair or shortcomings for now. That’s for another day/post. We wish him well as he takes up his position as honorary member of the IOC.

Paul Tergat  – image courtesy of www.runblogrun.com

In comes Paul Tergat. Now if ever there was an athlete who would rival Kipchoge Keino in terms of both national and international appeal, it is Paul Kibii Tergat. He has been on the running circuit until injury and loss of form made him leave the tracks and roads last year. His 5 consecutive titles on the world cross-country circuits, half-marathon and marathon races as well as his memorable but disappointing 2nd place finishes at the Atlanta and Sydney Olympics to another athletics legend Haile Gebreselassie.
Beyond his running exploits he has set up the Paul Tergat Foundation and also set up a private sports marketing firm, FineTouch Communications which handles the SOYA (Sports Personality Of the Year Awards) – an event used to honour Kenyan sports men and women who have excelled within a certain calendar year as well as honour those teams and past heroes too. He has also been serving as a Goodwill Ambassador for WFP- World Food Programme.
And though his sports organisations management may be in doubt, he has cultivated a relationship of mutual respect and honesty with Kenyan corporate firms and sports bodies – a rare feat for many sports people both active and retired. He has also been known to be a consensus builder and has business acumen which he will need to muster to run the NOC-K which still needs regular funding to meet its obligations.
As a former Olympian he did manage to embody the spirit of sportsmanship by not only losing gracefully two times to the same athlete but also cultivating a healthy relationship with his nemesis Gebreselassie. The two took battle from the cross-country tracks to the race tracks in the 10,000m to half-marathons and full marathons. They even broke world records in the marathon between themselves before Kenya’s Patrick Makau took the course record in Berlin last year.
We do applaud him on his nomination and do hope the IOC picks him to represent Kenya in the greater Olympics body. It should also be noted that other Kenyan sporting bodies should take the lead of the NOC-K to nominate, vet and elect officials who’s track record speaks for itself. Too many charlatans in town are costing Kenyan sport as great fortune and goodwill from their international peers.
Godspeed though to the “Gentleman”  !
  

David Rudisha shines for #TeamKenya with New World Record na Viatu vinang’ara na KIWI!!!

One of Kenya’s biggest athletics hopefuls finally took
to the track at exactly 2200hours and what a spectacle it was. Leading from the
front, David Rudisha proved why he’s the reigning world champion and the world
record holder to boot.
He managed to beat a host of athletes from other
countries including Abubakar Kaki – from Sudan and local athletes Timothy Kitum
to take gold in a world record time of 1 min 40:91secs. This is truly one of the most
outstanding performances by any of the athletics Olympians not just from Kenya
but for Africa too.
David Rudisha proves once again why Kenya is still one
of the leading lights in matters athletics and what it means to be a champion.
Keeping it neat and tight at the front and always looking to be in charge of
the race. Of course this is in keeping all major titles from African to World
and now Olympic titles, strapped in the boots.
Talking of boots, we know how David Rudisha has managed
to stay in tip-top condition and become not just a winning athlete but also a
role model to his fellow countrymen. When it comes to staying crisp and sharp,
we saw what he can do during the IAAF World Athlete of the Year Awards held in Monaco
in 2010…(as well the Kenyan Sportsman of the Year) If the cameras had zoomed in closer and further down his lithe self,
they would have captured his smart designer shoes of course shining courtesy of
Kiwi.  
Over the years, Kiwi shoe products have become synonymous
with the way one stands out.
David Rudisha – Image courtesy of  www.letsrun.com

It is often said that most ladies will pick out a
man from the way his shoes look like. What better way for a man to get his
shine on by picking on any of the Kiwi brands.  
With a wide range of polish solutions from the
evergreen shoe polish, shoe wax which is meant to enhance the look of your
valued shoes and leather products. Whether it’s your weekend boots, or the
handy leather lap-top bag and belts as well as other leather accessories, Kiwi
products are sure to make them last longer and look sharper. And even for your
running and fitness sneakers and rubbers, there is Kiwi cream to make sure you
look good when practicing those hamstrings and stretching the muscles.
Going back to the Olympics, we have seen many stars
coming out to win their country medals. This is not only a personal victory for
each athlete; it is also victory for their countries too. These victories serve
as a major inspiration to the upcoming and young athletes. We have all seen how
meticulous those in the disciplined forces take to shining their shoes. It
reflects a lot not just the person’s personality but how good their character
and potent they may possess in serving their nations. David Rudisha is one such
person representing the Kenya Police.
Rudisha and his ilk will surely inspire the next group
of athletes to compete in future Olympic competitions. This will be with their way
of showing not just the young ones but also the rest of us what it takes to be
a champion. Their track exploits go beyond the races into their way of life.
Serving as role models in every other sphere is truly the making of a champion.
And for champions there is always the need to have
trusted brands grooming your every road to success. Kiwi is the way to shine
and David Rudisha shines for #TeamKenya!

Olympics 2012 – Kenya busy missing Gold, what gives?

This weekend marked the start of the athletics programme in the ongoing London 2012 Olympic Games. From initial forecasts and given Kenya’s pedigree in the middle and long distance, it was finally a chance for Kenyans to cheer on #TeamKenya.
But things went awry from that first day when Ethiopia’s Tirunesh Dibaba took her Gold in the 10,000m for the 3rd consecutive Olympics after winning in Athens in 2004 and Beijing in 2008 ( remember she missed the World Athletics championships in Daegu at the World Athletics c’ships in 2011). Two of the Kenyan athletes did land the Silver and Bronze medals.
Second day and things went from bad to worse when the form book was suddenly changed with Great Britain’s Mo Farah won the 10,000m followed by US’s Galen Rupp while Ethiopia’s emerging talent in Bekele’s younger brother, Tariku was placed third.
Sunday and while we expected double gold, it was only a single one courtesy of Ezekiel Kemboi in the 3000m steeplechase ( and Bronze too from Mutai). The women marathon trio could only manage a Silver after running a tactical race but still wearing out before the final 5km.

What has been happening in London has been disappointing but not too shocking for those with a keener eye for matters athletics.
The team selection was first questioned especially for the 5,000m and 10,000m -men and women- when Athletics Kenya decided to take the trials for these races to Prefontaine – Oregon (USA). While our athltes were busy shuttling flights abroad, foreign athletes including Team GB’s Mo Farah, Paula Radcliffe and US’ Galen Rupp were pitching camp in the Rift Valley high altitude training facilities in Iten.

Next was the controversy in the marathon teams selection. It was decided that the selection would be done after the London marathon which coincidentally ought to have been the ideal case of knowing the route. But alas the closeness of the race seemed to have cost Kenya the title due to fatigue, burn-out or a combination of other factors. The men’s team had to leave out one of the earlier selected athletes {The men’s marathon is the last event of the Games and though #TeamKenya fans would love to see Kenyan athletes come through…the jury’s still out there}

Then just a few weeks to the Games, Ezekiel Kemboi was moving between the courts and the cop stations to answer to alleged charges of rape. Though he did manage to get off to go to London, there is that small matter that he will have to answer to once back to Kenya. Though AK & NOC-K officials may not want to admit it, this must have been of concern within the camp. Kemboi is one of the biggest attractions on the Kenyan track, thanks to his antics on winning any of his major races. The accusations and media glare was almost reminiscent of what cost Kenya a world-class marathoner in the late Samuel Wanjiru.

Going into the 4th and 5th days in the athletics programme where Kenya’s only medal hopes, the performance in Beijing 2008 now seems like a bar too high to achieve. Or shall the Rudishas, Jelimos, Kiprops, Cheruiyots do otherwise? Pray you do!

ION
Since Kenya seems to have struck the endorsement deal with Nike, wonder why none of our athletes seem to feature in their campaigns for London 2012 or preceding the Games. We have seen others like Visa International, P&G to name but a few. Maybe it’s time that deal is revisited. And anyway, we’re never told how much its worth. A little disclosure from NOC-K and AK maybe?

Olympics 2012 – Kenya, This is IT!

The 4 year cycle is over & this time London it is! The Olympic Games – multiple-sport biggest sporting extravaganza. And Kenya is firmly in there to claim its place. For those who read this blog, we’ll give a few of our own thoughts on what we think of Kenya’s hopes at these Games;

Flying the Kenyan Flag

Athletics:
Our (over)-reliance on this means once again, it is and remains the biggest prospects for medals. There are quite a number of world-beaters, from world champions to world record holders as well as reigning Olympic medallists.
Predictions:
800m:
Men (Gold)  Women (Gold)

1500m:
Men (Gold and Silver) Women (Silver)

3000m steeplechase:
Men ( Gold, Silver & Bronze); Women ( Gold and Bronze)

5000m:
Men ( Bronze); Women ( Silver)

10000m
Men (Silver); Women ( Gold)

Marathon:
Men (Gold and Bronze); Women ( Gold, Silver)

4 X 400m (Men) – The one-lap runners will most likely make to the Final (if they don’t drop the baton or run outside their lane). But the traditional teams of US, Caribbean and even Team GB will still be too strong to overcome.

Javelin: It will be a honourable mention to Julius Yego but he can’t beat the Eastern Europeans and Scandinavian throwers. They’re way ahead technically and physically. 

Boxing:
No offence to our boxers but the best we can manage is a Bronze by Benson Gicharu. This is because the game is quite technical nowadays and the scoring system is quite something. The preparations were not up to standard but this Kenyan cop can pack a punch all the way to the semis.

Swimming:
Jason Dunford will once again get to the Finals of the 100m butterfly on the back of some great outings in the World Swimming c’ships and Africa c’ships & All-Africa Games. David Dunford might also make it through the heats but as for the Finals, still anyone’s guess…

Weighlifting:
This is another sport Kenya has never quite excelled at Olympic Games level and this year it won’t be any different. The techniques, lack of proper training as well as physical challenges are some of the reasons why.

Total Medal Haul Forecast:
 8 Gold 5 Silver & 4 Bronze
Put on a good show Kenyans and we shall be rooting for you to beat our medal forecast and bring more home. We shall be proud as always for your sterling show! Go #TeamKenya!

Road to Olympics – Beijing 2008 Olympics Games

Beijing 2008 logo – courtesy of www.olympic.org

In the final part of our Road to Olympics, we look at the most recent Games the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games held in China.


These Games were in many ways the ‘coming out’ party for the People’s Republic of China and indeed they put up a great spectacle. From modern venues to a well-choreographed opening ceremony, the Games were one of the biggest in recent times. There were other major milestones which included live broadcasts done via Internet as well as the emergence of social media platforms such as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter which would change the way sport was viewed and reported. The shadow of Chinese authorities censorship did not escape observers though this was largely undone during the span of the Games.


Highlights:

  • China’s hosting meant that they emerged top of the medals standings by a haul – 51 Gold  compared to USA’s 36 – in the process setting a new record for most medals won in any single Games without boycotts (USSR had won 80 Gold in 1980 & USA 83 in 1984 but both had major boycotts).
  • The Bird’s Nest & Water Cube ( Beijing National Stadium and Beijing National Aquatics Center respectively) were some of the more enduring venues of any Olympic Games.
  • Concerns of pollution and insecurity had been expressed before the start of the Games but none of these came to fore during the Games exonerating the Beijing organisers.
  • Li Ning’s lighting of the torch was also one of the biggest highlights of the Games ( marketers also note it for the fact that he used his own shoe label instead of China’s official sponsors, Nike).
  • More than 100 Heads of States and Governments attended the Games during its whole duration. This is in addition to the 205 countries attending through their respective National Olympic Committees.
  • Michael Phelps finally broke the record for most gold medals in a single Olympics taking 8 Gold and breaking 7 world records and 1 Olympic record in the process.
  • Liu Xiang broke his home fans by dropping out of the 110m hurdles race which he had been favoured to win.

Beijing 2008 mascots

Kenyan Highlights:

  • After poor shows in the 1990s and early 2000s, Kenya finally reigned supreme taking 6 Gold 4 Silver and 4 Bronze ( 5 were won at the Games while the 6th was awarded to 1500m men 2nd-placed Asbel Kiprop after initial winner Bahrain’s Rashid Ramzi was stripped for use of illegal substances)
  • Women medallists equalled the men  winning 3 Gold same as their male counterparts.
  • Other medallists included ; Gold –  800m women Pamela Jelimo, Wilfred Bungei 800m men, Nancy Lagat 1500m women, Brimin Kipruto 3000m men’s steeplechase and (the late)Samuel Wanjiru – men’s marathon; Silver – Janeth Jepkosgei 800m women, Eunice Jepkorir 3000m women’s steeplechase , Eliud Kipchoge  5000m men and Catherine Ndereba – women’s marathon, while Bronze went to Alfred Kirwa 800m men, Richard Mateelong 3000m steeplechase, Edwin Cheruiyot 5000m men and Micah Yogo 10000m men.
  • In swimming Jason Dunford, temporarily held the Olympic record for the 100m butterfly men’s event winning his Heat (7) in 51.14 seconds ( it’s now the African and Kenyan record). He did make the finals but was placed 7th. No mean achievement in itself! 
  • Kenya also sent a rower Matthew Lidaywa -who placed 30th in the finals of the Single Sculls- another first for the country in any Olympics!

Road to Olympics – Athens , Greece – The Olympics Finally Come Home

After missing out on hosting the 100th year anniversary of modern Olympic Games, Athens was determined to show the world it still was the spiritual home of the Olympics. Seeking redemption from a failed bid for the 1996 Games, the Greek authorities decided to put on a masterpiece laced with ancient Greek traditions and modernity.

2004 had a couple of firsts for an Olympic Games;

  • The Olympic Torch traversed the world for the first time. The focus was mainly on former host cities and major sporting cities too. This was meant to create more awareness of the Games. 
  • The Games were streamed live on the Internet – though this was restricted within certain geographical parameters.

The Games were not the best outing for Kenya but before we focus on the country’s failings. Let’s look at some of the other highlights from Athens;

  • For the first time in an Olympics, all possible participating nations through the National Olympic Committees (NOCs) sent their athletes. 
  • Hisham el Guerrouj and Kelly Holmes each won 2 Gold Medals in 1500m & 5000m (men) while the latter won in 800m & 1500m (women).
  • Michael Phelps won 6 Gold and 2 Bronze medals – missing Mark Spitz’s haul of 7 Gold by one in swimming.
  • Felix Sanchez won gold in the 400m hurdles becoming the first Dominican to win gold in an Olympics.
  • Gal Fridman won gold in windsurfing to score Israel’s first gold medal too.
  • The USA Basketball team lost a game for the first time since featuring NBA pro stars and was beaten in the semis by Argentina to settle for Bronze.
  • Greece athletes Konstantinos Kenteris and Ekaterini Thanou staged a motorcycle accident to avoid being tested for use of banned substances. Consequently they withdrew from the Games opting out to save face.
  • US topped the medals table but Asia’s China was slowly breathing down its neck falling short of 3 Gold medals of US’ 35. 

Kenya’s Facts:

  • Kenya sent participants in 4 disciplines participating in athletics, rowing, swimming and volleyball.
  • 22 men and 24 women was the final tally of the Kenyan contingent – one of the lowest in recent times.
  • Athletics was the only discipline to bring us medals, keeping to its previous successes. 
  • Kenya’s volleyball team represented Africa in the Games but didn’t win a single game or set. They would miss the next 2 Games. 
  • 1 Gold in Kenya’s traditional sport – 3000m steeplechase won by Ezekiel Kemboi who led a clean sweep in the same race leading Brimin Kipruto and Paul Kipsiele Koech. 
  • Bernard Lagat won silver in 1500m (men) and he took a bow in representing the country going on to his adopted country of US of A.
  • Other medal winners include Catherine ‘The Great’ Ndereba Silver (women’s marathon), Isabella Ochichi- Silver ( women’s 5000m); Eliud Kipchoge- Bronze ( men’s 5000m)

 

Running for Black Gold – Book Review

When Africa’s best will be competing at the Olympics showpiece in a week’s time, they shall be looking for inspiration and hoping to be the same pedigree that has gone before them. This pedigree has been captured in a new book titled – Running for Black Gold – by Kevin Lillis ( and Photography by Mark Shearman).

This 170- pager seeks to record the history of African athletes at the Olympic Games as organised by IOC and the World Athletics Championships (held under IAAF). The author worked in many African countries and thus been able to document the achievements of African athletes. This is from the 1960 when Ethiopia’s Abebe Bikila won Africa her first Gold medal to the last Olympic Games in Beijing and the World Athletics championships in Daegu, South Korea.

” After Abebe Bikila’s Olympic marathon gold medals in world record times in both Rome (1960) and Tokyo (1964), African athletes began to assume greater prominence. At the Tokyo Olympic Games in 1964, Africa claimed two medals in addition to Bikila’s marathon gold. Wilson Kiprugut( Kenya) won a bronze at 800 metres – improving that to silver in Mexico City (1968).”  



Starting off with his own trials of running a pre-qualification marathon event ( in the preface), the writer goes on to give details of the achievements of athletes from the major nations of  Eastern Africa’s Ethiopia and Kenya who have won Africa most of her medals.

” Fortified, I halted pitifully to the stadium entrance and then, again pure hubris, raised my sprint around the remaining 385 yards to the finish where the 13 runners who had preceded me to the tape gave the politest, humorous ripple of applause, the late great Naftali amongst them, still clutching that stopwatch, which recorded me, last man in, as 66 minutes behind the 2.14.00 of the winner, Philip Ndoo….I felt like Pheidippides himself, but Philip’s time, at altitude, was faster than that of Bikila’s 1960 world record gold medal in Rome.”

Though bereft of actual athletes profiles and life beyond the running field, the book captures the performances of each of Africa’s best performers track record.

Table 6.6 show African Female ‘Black Gold; Hall of Fame where the top 3 female athletes are ‘unsuprisingly’ Ethiopian; below is a sketched sample of the table;

Olympics
IAAF
World
World
Records
G
S
B
G
S
B
Tirunesh Dibaba (ETH)
2
0
1
4
0
0
1
Meseret Defar (ETH)
1
0
1
1
1
2
2
Derartu Tulu (ETH)
2
0
1
1
1
0

Here’s another sample of the writing:

” The narrative has remarked many times with a sense of wonder and admiration at the brilliance of the cast of African runners, their grace, uninhibited speed, beauty, and unbounded, unbridled joie de vivre and joie de courir – kimbia bwana kimbia!”

The book does well to enumerate the achievements of various athletes both male and female who have put Africa on the map. With great images meant to celebrate the track kings and queens, the reader will be taken back over the 5 decades of mixed bag of success and missed opportunities.The medal tallies and various records have been clearly outlined in tables.The same goes for the world records which have been set over the same distances at both the Olympics and World championships. 

The book though is not your usual long prose reading leaving out the finer details of the athletes featured. It would have definitely taken longer to capture such information. It also does not also try to solve the mystery of why athletes from some countries and regions are more successful than others – but does query and make that note in the Introduction.

But for you who’s looking to learn what African athletes have achieved, this is a worthy book. For the athletics and sports writers of our generation, the facts and figures are important to note.The foreword is aptly done by Dr. Mike Boit, himself a former Kenyan athlete and various notable sports editors of their time are also acknowledged for the assistance they offered. They include Don Beet formerly with East African Standard and Drum Magazine; John Steward, formerly an expatriate teacher in Kisii and Peter Moll formerly sports editor at the Daily Nation and Africa Sports.

 It will be released soon to coincide with the start of the Olympic Games in London. Here’s the link on Amazon. For Kenyan readers, you can contact local publishers , East African Educational Publishers for a copy.

Olympics 2012 – Kenyan Sports Officials’ Gravy Train…

Media reports over the weekend reported the apprehension and confusion that is going into Kenya’s preparations for the London Olympics which start in a little over 10 days from today. After Kenya’s trials were completed in June, it was all systems go for preparations for a respectable if not historic medal harvest.
But right from the word go, we have been hearing of grumbling from Kenyan athletes and officials arriving too early under the pretext of preparations.
The training camp at Bristol has come under scrutiny with some complaints of the facilities needing some sprucing up ( for the swimmers) and also the lack of altitude that would have an effect for the athletes in the athletics discipline.
That officials would start arriving a full 3 weeks to the opening of the Games smacks of irresponsibility and excesses in their part to earn unwarranted allowances. We know that Kenya’s marketing team in Brand Kenya had already made plans to set up shop in London ( the venue is branded as “Kenya House”). This is to try market the country as a favourable destination for not just the usual tourism circuits but also for investment opportunities e.g in infrastructure and ICT, but also sports tourism among many others.
Reliable sources inform us of how Government and parastatal officials have been fighting to be included in the trip not so much because of their working briefs but instead to ‘enjoy the trappings of a fully-sponsored outing by the Government’ – indulge in shopping sprees, enjoy access to some of the venues and also for some of them to treat their girlfriends and boyfriends (yes even the married ones) to sights and sounds of the UK!
That officials would be so carefree to leave the athletes to their own destiny is quite deplorable to say the least. We also saw the way one of the athletes who had been named in the 4 x 400m men’s relay team was treated and sent back home just a few days after reporting to camp.
Which begs these questions;

  • Why would Kenyan sports authorities sign up for training facilities without vetting them properly?
  • Why should the bulk of the athletes report to camp a whole month into the Games even when the officials know that conditions at the training camps are not ideal?
  • Who vets the number of officials who leave the country to make the necessary preparations for the athletes and other parties relating the Olympic travelling team?
  • How many sports associations are represented at the Games? And should they be there in the first place if their sports men and women are NOT represented? 
  • Year in year out, we’re treated to the charades of Kenyan sports and Government officials who have no business being at major sporting events being part of the contingent. Bwana Waziri, can you tell us who caters for their expenses and if so why waste taxpayers monies ‘chasing dreams’? {NB: The All-Africa Games in Maputo – Mozambique had similar claims and the findings from Parliament are yet to come out. We can almost guarantee a similar story come September…}
  • Why do our sports officials sacrifice the sports people at the altar of greed and selfish ego-trips?
If Kenya does not realise its full potent in winning the maximum number of gold medals, at least we have an inkling of where to apportion the blame.