How Kenya lost the London Olympics plot

What you need to know:

  • Turf wars, ego battles and low morale hurt athletes in London

Kenya completes its bitter-sweet Olympic experience on Sunday when Wilson Kipsang, Emmanuel Mutai and Abel Kirui go for glory on the streets on London as the marathon programme completes 17 days of high-adrenalin action that will see the curtains come down Sunday night in what organisers describe as “the mother of all parties”.

But what was touted to be country’s greatest ever Olympics outing, surpassing the success at the last Games in Beijing four years ago, has ended up being one of the worst, the sporadic bright spots thus far being David Rudisha’s record-breaking run in the 800 metres on Thursday and Ezekiel Kemboi dancing his way to the steeplechase gold in the early days of the track and field programme.

Bright spot

Self-trained Julius Yego, shunned several times by Kenyan sports officials, was another bright spot here when he became the first African to qualify for the men’s javelin final that was being held last night at the Olympic Stadium, along with the women’s 800m and men’s 5,000m finals.

While the athletes fought gallantly to protect Kenya’s envious status as Africa’s undisputed top Olympic nation, National Olympic Committee of Kenya (NOCK) officials, charged with managing Team Kenya, have shamelessly thrown the spanner in the works with an arrogant show of impunity and mismanagement at its worst derailing the contingent’s bid to eclipse the six gold, four silver and four bronze medals that the country won in Beijing.

The chaos at Kenya’s Olympic Village camp unfolded in front of sports minister Paul Otuoma, who has since said a post-mortem would be done to dissect the unexpectedly general poor showing by Team Kenya, confirming that even government isn’t happy with the goings on here.

Dr Otuoma had, however, earlier thrown his weight behind the Olympics officials, warning national sports federations to keep off the management of the London 2012 campaign.

But with Kenya losing gold after gold, the minister and NOCK officials are now clutching at straws, riding on Kemboi’s and Rudisha’s performances to mitigate against the disaster in London and arguing that the important thing at the Olympics “is to compete, rather than to win”.

“As much as everybody wants to win, if all of the athletes who came here said that they wanted gold, there would be no Olympics,” the minister said in response to a question by the Sunday Nation over Kenya’s lacklustre performance.

“As a country definitely we expect more, but we have to say at this point in time that everybody who is here is trying their best... the rest can only be for post-mortem after the Games are over and an analysis has been made.”

Team Kenya’s camp at the Olympic Village in Stratford has been chaotic since the Games started with athletes complaining about high-handed management team officials who have denied them training kit and shoes provided by Kenya’s kit suppliers Nike.

There are close to 30 government and sports association officials in London, many of them serial joy riders unable to account for their $300-a-day (Sh25,000-a-day) which translated to Sh1.05m for their minimum 40 days’ stay here.

There was a near riot when the athletics programme was about to begin when some of the elite athletes, including double world champion Vivian Cheruiyot, gave NOCK assistant secretary Stephen arap Soi a dressing down over how he handled them, especially regarding the distribution of training and competition uniforms, ceremonial clad and running shoes.

Soi is the chief executive officer of Team Kenya and has come in for a series of attacks, along with general team manager James Chacha, over the way they have mishandled athletes here.

While US sportswear firm Nike, on a multi-million shilling deal to kit Kenya’s Olympics teams, delivered 200 bags containing an array of training and competition kit and shoes, only a package of 50 arrived at the Team Kenya camp.

But NOCK secretary, Francis Paul, maintains that nothing has been lost.

“Yes, we received the 200 pieces and I can assure you we can account for everything,” said Paul, a Kenya Amateur Handball Association veteran.

“We distributed the kit to Athletics Kenya, journalists, government officials and sponsors.”

However, Nike maintains that the kit was specifically for the London-bound contingent with no provision for government officials and sponsors.

Nike’s athletics director John Caprioti is livid and has sought an explanation over the distribution of the kit after athletes stormed Nike’s Olympics headquarters at Mile End, London, protesting at the kits farce. One of the Nike headquarters officials was dispatched to the Olympic Village to ensure athletes received their basic training and competition kit.

The Sunday Nation has learned that last week, athletes defied Soi, a former police officer with the General Service Unit, and stormed NOCK’s store at the Olympic Village to grab the shoes, training gear and other equipment that they were supposed to receive, after NOCK chairman, Olympic legend Kipchoge Keino, told them they had the right to what was theirs.

Rudisha, as captain, personally went to the Nike offices with his manager, James Templeton, to make sure he had the right equipment, as did the rest of the team as only 25 per cent of what was due to the Kenyan track and field team had been delivered.

While each athlete is entitled to ceremonial uniforms, worn during medal presentation ceremonies, the NOCK team here has just been handing out such kit to medallists alone, and even then half-heartedly.

The medal presentation ceremony for Rudisha’s 800m victory was delayed on Thursday due to the late arrival of the ceremonial strip, thoroughly embarrassing Athletics Kenya chairman Isaiah Kiplagat who had been picked by the International Olympic Committee to hand out the medals to Rudisha (gold), Botswana’s Nigel Amos (silver) and Kenya’s Timothy Kitum (bronze).

Apologised to athletes

“I had to plead with the organisers to slightly delay the ceremony so that Kitum and Rudisha can get their ceremonial uniforms from NOCK,” said Kiplagat. “It was rather embarrassing.”

A respected International Olympic Committee honorary member, Dr Keino’s hand’s-off approach to management has been abused by some of his team here. “Kip” has conceded that the war between his NOCK team and Athletics Kenya, that has seen Kiplagat banned from meeting the athletes at the Olympic Village, has derailed Kenya’s progress.

“The sooner we come together and iron out our differences, the better, otherwise our sport will continue suffering,” the legend said last week in a media interview.

Also last week, “Kip”, a double gold medallist at the Olympics, held a breakfast meeting with the athletes and apologised over his team’s management gremlins saying, as a former athlete, he stood by them.

Double world champion, Cheruiyot, in particular, has been hardest hit.

Coming into the Games as the world 5,000m and 10,000m champion, hopes were sky high that she would run away with two gold medals in these races, but after she failed to win any medal in the opening night’s 10,000m final, fingers were pointed at the NOCK management team for frustrating her.

And it was there for all to see after her personal coach and husband, Moses Kirui, was locked out of the Olympic Village along with another coach, Sammy Rono, and team doctor Victor Bargoria. They were only allowed in after a mini-riot in the Kenyan camp.

Upon arrival at the Olympic Village from Nairobi, Cheruiyot waited for four hours before getting her accreditation papers and cried as her husband was declared persona non grata by Soi’s team.

“She (Cheruiyot) has been disturbed a lot,” Kirui said yesterday. “During last year’s World Championships in Daegu she was relaxed because everything was alright and that’s why she won two gold medals.

“After the eight hour flight from Nairobi and one hour trip from the airport, she waited for four hours to be accredited and each time we tried to call Kenyan team officials, they were unavailable,” lamented Kirui.

The writing was on the wall at Kenya’s pre-Olympics training camp at the Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani, when the NOCK team forced the athletes to travel to a pre-Olympics camp in Bristol, England, three weeks ahead of competition and against their wishes.

The middle and long distance runners, led by captain Rudisha and his deputy Pamela Jelimo, preferred to train at altitude in Nairobi and Iten and fly to London three or four days ahead of competition, which they are used to during their travels to international races.

After a tug-of-war, it was agreed that athletes from 800 metres down to the sprints travel to Bristol on July 3, along with boxers Elizabeth Andiego and Benson Gicharu, swimmers David and Jason Dunford, and weightlifter Mercy Obiero.

They were to travel with Rudisha, Jelimo, javelin thrower Julius Yego, hurdler Vincent Kiplangat Kosgei, 400m runners Joyce Zakari and Boniface Mucheru, along with 4x400 metres relay team members Vincent Mumo, Alphas Kishoyian, Boniface Mucheru, Mark Mutai and Boniface Mweresa.

But while Rudisha and Jelimo declined, the rest travelled as did former national 400m champion, Anderson Mureta, who, however, had not qualified for the Olympics and was promptly ejected from the Bristol camp.

The advance party of 14 athletes was in Bristol with almost the entire management team of 16 officials with only the athletics team manager, Joseph Kinyua, who is also the Athletics Kenya treasurer.

Kinyua, a director at Kenya Pipeline Company, also departed camp for the company’s retreat in Mombasa, leaving only head coach Julius Kirwa in charge of the 36 athletes.

“The implication was that, in the absence of any management team official, the athletes were left to their own devices and that’s why some flew off to London and Monaco for Diamond League competitions, in the process probably burning themselves out,” a source in camp, who wished not to be identified, said.

Burnout-out has been listed as one of the reasons for Kenya’s poor performances here, with many questioning why defending 1,500m champion Asbel Kiprop, for instance, finished last in the final after running a season-leading time of three minutes and 28 seconds at last month’s Monaco Diamond League.

Most of the athletes and officials, many of them working for the Kenya Police and Kenya Defence Forces, were, understandably, not willing to be quoted, but spoke of total disharmony in camp as the principal reason behind Kenya’s debacle, calling for a total change of guard in the Olympic committee.

Kenya’s Olympics head of mission Jonathan Koskei is a deputy commissioner of police, and has largely been anonymous here where individuals who have never been seen inside a Kenyan stadium accredited officially as coaches and physiotherapists much to the chagrin of the athletes.

Giving Keino a bad name

“I have been in the team for a many years but I have never seen anything like this. The officials here have exposed Kipchoge Keino and are giving him a bad name as NOCK chairman,” one official said yesterday. “Kip is a most respected figure globally and it’s sad to see what is happening here tarnishing his name.”

Athletes competing in finals are entitled to stadium tickets for their families but no-one here has received any from NOCK, who flew in their Nairobi secretary and messenger on Olympic tickets, while snubbing Kenya’s Olympics veterans despite the fact that Olympic Games rules provide for at least one ex-Olympian travelling with the team.

“This is so embarrassing that after what we have done for the country, we have been totally ignored,” said 2000 Sydney Olympics 1,500m gold medallist Noah Ngeny.

“Such has been Soi’s arrogance that when asked by Kenyan journalists if there would be a media opportunity at Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s visit to the Kenyan camp, he responded: ‘You will see it on CNN!’ and walked off.”

Kenya’s chaotic campaign here that several global media houses, including the British Broadcasting Corporation, the host broadcasters, have run several shows tearing into the country’s campaign that has been somewhat salvaged by Rudisha’s and Kemboi’s gold medals.


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