Kenyan athletes are great middle and long distance runners. This fact should be enough to make Kenya and its athletes exceedingly proud and support the campaign to clean up the sport from drug cheats. Like they have always been at the top of the world in competitions, Kenyan athletes should expectedly be at the fore front in ensuring the sport is clean since there is so much focus on them from the rest of the world. They should be the ones to stand up and say no to drugs in sports.
On this site, we call upon athletes, managements, agents and coaches of integrity to make their vehement statements that shun cheating in sports and to urge athletes to be proud of their natural God-given talents. We will put their statements on this site and also print out leaflets to distribute to athletes in local competitions as well as in their training camps.
At the close of the Glasgow Commonwealth Games, Kenya was placed in position 9 at the overall medal standings and 3rd on the African continent behind South Africa and Nigeria and just like it did at the last Games, had topped in athletics with 10 gold medals, 10 silver medals and 3 bronze medals. The country won only 2 bronze medals outside athletics, in powerlifting and boxing.
Kenya had placed 5th overall at the 2010 Games in New Delhi and 1st on the African continent. It had led the Games at the medal standings in athletics with 11 gold medals, 10 silver medals and 8 bronze medals. Other two medals; a gold and a bronze had been won in aquatics and in boxing respectively.
Julius Kiplagat Yego won the first ever gold medal by a Kenya in the Commonwealth Games' Javelin event and given that all the other gold medals won by Kenyans in Glasgow came from the middle and long distance events, Yego's gold will be much more significant than any of those. It will act to show the upcoming Kenyan athletes that there are also opportunities to shine in other track and field events besides running only in the 800m to the marathon distances. It is a matter of one having a vision and working to achieve it.
Commonly referred to as the "You Tube" athlete, Yego did not follow the usual path taken by other athletes from his community, but instead, used the internet to acquire techniques on throwing the javelin. He began to realize the fruits of his endeavors when he became the first Kenyan to win a gold medal in the javelin event at the All Africa Games in 2011. He became the first Kenyan to compete at the Olympic Games in javelin at the 2012 London Olympics and managed to sail through to the finals there. He also almost made it to the podium positions at the 2013 world championships when he finished in fourth position.
His time finally came at the Glasgow Games when he threw 83.87m to beat the 2012 Olympic champion, Keshorn Walcott who threw 82.67m to finish 2nd ahead of Australia's Hamish Peacock who threw 81.75m to take the bronze medal. This win was a major milestone in his career as he has now finally gotten to win gold in such a major international championship event.
Had Yego not found the courage and wisdom to give up on running and take up javelin throwing, Kenya would have now ended up at some other position further down the table at the medal standings in Glasgow. If Kenyans had only maintained the same gold medals it won in Delhi, like for the men's 800m and marathon, then Yego's gold medal would have served to push the country upwards on the medal standings.
Kenyans can now hope that by the time the next Commonwealth Games happen, other Kenyan athletes would have been inspired by Julius Yego's success and the country shall have a wider range of events to go for gold medals, not only in other field events like the hammer, discus throws and the jumps, but also in other disciplines like cycling, badminton, diving, hockey, judo, shooting, table tennis and lawn bowls, among others.
Talking of Lawn Bowls, I remember someone was wondering how it is that someone who rolls a ball on the ground can win the same one gold medal as someone who has run for entire 42km. Surely, some Kenyans can roll these balls too during the next Games! Why not?
She is a Kenyan by birth, but her athletic success started in the US where she is based. She was the NCAA's three times cross country champion in 2010, 2011 and 2012 and also won the 5,000m in 2012 and the 10,000m in 2013 national championships while at the Iowa State University. She is currently one of the most promising long distance athletes given that she has been out of college recently and only became a full-time professional athlete this year, but has so far run spectacular times in the 10k and the 5,000m distances.
She is now in Kenya briefly to prepare herself for the big races next year that will hopefully, for her, include representing Kenya in the women 10,000m at the 2015 world championships.
Having been following her on twitter and occasionally having a chat in which she had often talked about saying no to doping and working hard to achieve success, I decided to catch up with her at her current training camp in Iten to hear more from her.
"When we hear of reports that Kenya and Russia are leading in doping cases, it really ruins the sport. It doesn't bring a good impression when a country like Kenya, whose athletes are known to be running very well; winning Olympic gold medals, marathons and other races are said to be involved in doping. There won't be any big excitement anymore when a Kenyan wins a race because fans will be suspecting that he or she is probably a cheat," Betsy said.
Betsy believes that each and every athlete should be involved in the fight against doping since whether one is doping or not, all will be affected in some way. She added that many athletes have worked hard till they reached the top without the use of drugs. And, although she does not count herself yet to be among the best in the world, but is optimistic of reaching there some time soon, she says that she is one of the living examples that pure hard work without cheating leads to success. This is the one thing that she wants every athlete to know.
She observed comically that some clean and successful athletes are just sitting there and watching as other upcoming athletes try to take short-cuts to fame, telling themselves: Let them cheat, be caught and suffer the consequences. Who asked them to cheat? But, not knowing that the problem will affect all the athletes and the sport in general.
"I was glad and encouraged when I heard Asbel Kiprop recently talking and urging for stern measures to be taken on the athletes found doping. Such top athletes, who have achieved so much in their running while staying clean are role models to many and should step out and make some efforts to talk to and educate the upcoming athletes to shun doping. They need to tell others that they have done it without cheating and that they too can do it by training hard," said Betsy.
"The athletics federation in Kenya and the Kenyan government should also come together and join efforts to ensure that this issue of doping is addressed urgently. It should be stopped now, not next year. We need the Kenyan name to remain clean and our athletes to continue enjoying our tradition of being known as great athletes."
Her message to upcoming athletes is that everything is possible for them, only if they train hard.
The world major marathon title for men and the $500,000 prize money that goes with it will be at stake at the New York City marathon. The man who many see as the one to determine who wins that title is none other than Geoffrey Mutai. If he wins here, his training mate, Dennis Kimetto will automatically take the WMM title and if he doesn't and Wilson Kipsang does, then Kipsang will win the title. Any other elite who wins here will also result in Dennis Kimetto being declared the winner.
Mutai is confident that with the training he has done so far, he is ready for the race. He knows that he will be facing tough competition from other world's top marathon runners that will include Wilson Kipsang, Stephen Kiprotich and Stanley Biwot among others. He even had to cancel other races he would still have run recently in order to fully concentrate on training for New York. "Traveling a lot for races is even more exhausting than running in those races," he said, adding that such traveling usually affect his training plans as he would at times lose one week of training if he travelled for a race abroad.
"Yes it will be a tough race. That is why it is called a competition. Every major marathon is always expected to have strong competitors and everyone preparing to run one should be very prepared for that. You cannot expect to go there and run alone," he said regarding the strong elite field that will be in the race.
He will be aiming to run within 2:05 and hopefully get to smash the course record again, but says that it won't be an easy task since New York Marathon's course is not a fast one.
"I cannot compare New York's course to that of Boston, Berlin or London. New York is a hard course, especially on the last half of the course where it slopes upwards and one has to struggle before reaching the finish line," he said.
Cross-country running is a great way that Mutai has usually used to tune up his body to run well in major marathons. In fact, he believes that his participation at the world cross country championships in 2011 was the reason behind his stunning 2:03.02 in Boston Marathon that same year before proceeding to set New York's course record of 2:05.06.
"When world cross country championships used to be an annual event, many strong athletes would fight to get selected into the national team to represent the country. Participating in local and international meetings was so beneficial in sharpening my speed and endurance for the marathon. Now that the championships have been turned into a bi-annual event, many athletes have lost interest on it and the cross country competitions have not been as hard and challenging as before. Cross country running helps in building perseverance," Mutai said.
The world knows him as the athlete who mentored Dennis Kimetto, the current world record holder in marathon. But, at his camp in Kapng'etuny and in many other places here in Kenya where I have been to, I have also come across many athletes who attribute their success in running to Mutai's help and advice. Besides seeing him as a role model and wanting to be like him, you can be sure that the interview could not end without him giving me some valuable advice too.
"The common mistake that most of the athletes make is over-training and exhausting their bodies. It is always good to pay attention to your body and know when to stop pushing hard in your training, especially when you feel that you are already in great shape," advised Mutai.
He likes to see marathon running as a game of fighting, where one should learn to fight to remain on top until the last minute. He himself still has a lot of fighting to do and many accomplishments to accomplish. He didn't let injuries and other setbacks that befell him some time in 2013 and in other past instances affect his running career. His focus is on the fights ahead; the world record that still stands to be broken again, WMM titles that need to be won, the Olympics and world medals too.
"I still have plans, a future and goals to achieve with my running," Mutai says.
As a sports journalist, you inevitably meet many sports stars and icons. You learn a lot in the process. One thing I have learned is that, just like it is with the general public, there exist different characters and personalities in the athletic community. Some may give you false appointments when you request an interview with them. Others just refuse to be interviewed, but many others are nice and cooperative.
I first met Eliud Kipchoge some few weeks ago before the Chicago marathon. He was still sweating after finishing some track intervals with his training group and was still going to jog for about four kilometers to where they would board the vehicle to return to their training camp. He was already lagging behind as the rest had already begun to jog when I stopped him. I wanted to ask when I could conveniently meet him for an interview. He stopped and actually talked nicely to me, giving me his phone number and the most convenient day, place, and time to find him. My respect and admiration of him started from that day, and grew when he indeed kept his promises and was so supportive during the interview.
In fact, I had to mention that he is a man who keeps his word when I wrote down the interview.
Rita Jeptoo humbled me by creating time for me and finding the best place where I could conduct the interview with her. Rita Jeptoo also provided very valuable information to me regarding running that I haven't even had enough time to write yet. She gave me information, as a journalist, and then advised me as a fellow athlete too. She made me also feel like I would be contributing to her success after I had asked her what she expected of the race in Chicago and she asked me to pray for her because only God knew what would happen there.
When you interview athletes and are touched by their stories and personalities, you would want to see them excel.
So, would have been right to guess that for my first time, while watching this year's Chicago Marathon, I was sitting on the edge of my seat. I went through what managers and agents usually go through while their athletes are there running in major races; I also had two athletes in this race: Kipchoge and Jeptoo.
There were no TV channels showing the marathon live here in Kenya and two athletes who had seen me post some updates on social media and wondered where I was watching that had gotten excited and came to my house so that we could watch the race together through online streaming. We were glad to learn that we were rooting for the same athletes.
Even as Kipchoge and Rita were opening the gaps on their competitors on the last stages of the race, I was still tense and could only wait with my heart beating rapidly and my legs trembling until they crossed the finish line. I was afraid that anything could have happened.
There was a sigh of relief when Kipchoge won first. At least, I already had one victory in my pocket, as I waited to see what would happen with Rita, who had asked me to pray for her. Then, there she was, doing what she is best known for; accelerating in the last kilometers of the race and the gap between her and the rest rapidly growing.
I held my breath and waited, but I was already composing a tweet to congratulate her.
Finally, she did it. It became two victories for me at the 2014's Bank of America Chicago Marathon.