Soul-searching begins as Kenya end Games with just one bronze medal to show

Kenya end Paralympic Games with just one bronze medal

What you need to know:

  • Certainly, a serious post-mortem that’s not sugar-coated, must be done to right the wrongs and prepare adequately for the next Paralympic Games in Paris in 2024.
  • Yes, the coronavirus pandemic threw the spanner in the works with para athletes worst hit, but that’s not enough mitigation for misplaced priorities in the Team Kenya camp here.

In Tokyo

John Britton must be turning in his grave.

After medalling for his home nation of Great Britain at the 1968 Paralympic Games, Britton migrated to Kenya, took up citizenship and became the first Kenyan to win a medal at these Games.

And, boy, what a way to launch a nation’s campaign!

He won Kenya’s only gold at the country’s ground-breaking Paralympic Games in Heidelberg, West Germany, by shattering the world record in the pool, grabbing the top podium place in the “Class Two” (basically for paraplegic athletes) 25 metres freestyle in 19.9 seconds.

Kenya had sent four competitors who featured in four disciplines – archery, snooker, athletics and swimming.

Britton died in 2004 somewhere in Florida, USA, where he was teaching, and since his trailblazing exploits, Kenya has won a total of 19 gold medals, 16 silver and 13 bronze.

On Tuesday morning, Kenya completed its worst ever outing to the Paralympic Games when Erick Kiptoo Sang finished sixth in the 1,500 metres T11 class (for visually impaired) at the National Stadium here.

This means Kenya leave these Games with just one medal - a bronze - won by Nancy Chelangat Koech in Monday’s 1,500 T11 final, Kenya’s worst ever performance at the Paralympic Games!

Only once has Kenya won just one medal, but perhaps not “just” because it was gold, from Britton’s 1972 swim.

Erick Kiptoo Sang

Kenya's Erick Kiptoo Sang and his guide Erick Kirui in the middle of the pack during the final of the 1,500 metres T11 race at the National Stadium in Tokyo on August 31, 2021.

Photo credit: Pool | Team Kenya

Subsequent performances have been as follows:

1980 (Arnheim, Netherlands): one gold, two silver, no bronze; 
1984 (Stoke Mandeville, Great Britain) 1-1-1; 
1988 (Seoul, South Korea) 0-4-1;
1992 (Barcelona) 1-0-1;
1996 (Atlanta) 1-1-0;
2000 (Sydney) 1-1-2;
2004 (Athens) 3-1-3;
2008 (Beijing) 5-3-1;
2012 (London) 2-2-2;
2016 (Rio de Janeiro) 3-1-2;
2021 (Tokyo) 0-0-1.

There was already a hitch going into yesterday’s final race for Kenya when Kenyan officials here replaced Sang’s guide David Korir by bringing in Eric Kirui owing to an injury by Korir.

The inevitable move certainly affected Sang’s rhythm.

With two laps to go, Sang was a distant sixth with Brazil’s Yeltsin pulling off a gun-to-tape performance, opening up an unassailable, 40-metre gap with 600 metres to go and holding on to grab victory, and his second gold of these Games, in a world record three minutes, 57.60 seconds.

Sang wound up sixth in 4:21.53.

Sang then thanked the government for the support that saw the team in camp for over two months at the Utalii Hotel in Nairobi.

“I’d like to urge the government to keep organising such long residential training camps,” he said.

Erick Kiptoo Sang

Kenya's Erick Kiptoo Sang and his guide Erick Kirui stalk Japan's Kenya Karasawa and his guide Hiroaki Mogi during the final of the 1,500 metres T11 race at the National Stadium in Tokyo on August 31, 2021.

Photo credit: Pool | Team Kenya

“It would also be good to arrive at these Games much earlier for acclimatisation. The heat and humidity here really affected us because we have been training in high altitude back home in Kenya,” he said.

“We should have been here at least one week before the competition.”

He also made a great proposal that para athletes be allowed to train with able-bodied athletes which will help the gain the pace and shape of the elites.

His guide Kirui appealed to the Kenya National Paralympic Committee to cast their net wider in selection to increase medal chances.

“Also a one or two-week camp at the competition venue is important for athletes to acclimatise – for instance, back home we train where the temperature is around 21 degrees (Celcius) and here we compete at 32 degrees,” he added.

Kirui proposed a broad selection system to identify talented athletes nationally.

“There are many physically and visually challenged but talented athletes out there in the villages. They just need to be brought together and taken through trials to ensure that there is a bigger representation and higher possibility pf winning medals,” he said.

Sang ran a lone race as Kenya’s second entry, Wilson Bii (guided by Robert Tarus), was disqualified in the event’s heats on Monday for an infringement on a rule touching on eligibility of the tether (string that ties runner and guide together).

There will be a lot of soul-searching as Kenya’s contingent, that included Members of Parliament, launch the agonizingly long journey home with brilliant Chelangat’s bronze medal all to show for this two-week outing.

Certainly, a serious post-mortem that’s not sugar-coated, must be done to right the wrongs and prepare adequately for the next Paralympic Games in Paris in 2024.

Yes, the coronavirus pandemic threw the spanner in the works with para athletes worst hit, but that’s not enough mitigation for misplaced priorities in the Team Kenya camp here.

For sure, the national government, through bereaved Sports Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed and Principal Secretary Joe Okudo, must be commended for making all efforts for the long camp at Utalii Hotel and ensuring the athletes’ and officials’ allowances were paid well in advance, a rarity in Kenyan missions to the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

The Kenya National Paralympic Committee certainly has many questions to answer.

Final results for the men’s 1,500 metres T11 final at the National Stadium in Tokyo:

Jacques Yeltsin, Brazil (Guide runner: Carlos Antonio dos Santos) three minutes, 57.60 seconds (world record) – gold,
Shinya Wada, Japan (Guide: Takume Hasebe) 4:05.27
Fedor Rudakov, Independent 4:05.55
Kenya Karasawa, Japan (Guide: Hiroaki Mogi) 4:08.84
Darwin Gustavo Castro Reyes (Guide: Patricio Diego Arevalo Vizhnay) 4:10.24
Erick Kiptoo Sang, Kenya (Guide: Eric Kirui) 4:21.53
Christian Valenzuela, Chile (Guide: Matias Andres Silva Lastra) 4:30.04

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