Could Japan be shaping herself to be the world’s superpower in athletics?

Suguru Osako of Japan
2018 has seen a number of unexpected surprises from the Japanese athletes ranging from the middle to the long distance races. Yuki Kawauchi won one of the world’s biggest marathon; the Boston Marathon in April. Among other surprising performances by Japanese athletes in the 42km distance was at the Chicago Marathon where the little known Suguru Osako beat the likes of Abel Kirui, Galen Rupp, Geoffrey Kirui and Bedan Karoki, among others to finish on the podium in a new national record of 2:05:50.
But more interesting to follow will be Nazomi Tanaka of Japan who won gold medal in the women’s 3000m at the IAAF world u20 championships in an exciting race where fourteen athletes out of the total seventeen who finished the race registered their personal best times. The two team mates from Japan; Yuna Wada and Nazomi Tanaka, had ran a well calculated race to ensure that they won the gold medal for their nation.
Soon after the gun went off, the Japanese pair had started to break away from the rest. In many of the distance track races, when a less known athlete breaks away from the field, no one takes them seriously as they would soon falter and get overtaken as the race progressed. The two girls crossed the first 1,000m in 3:00.55, about 50m ahead. It was almost in an even split that they crossed the 2,000m point in 6:03.19. The gap was almost constant and it was beginning to look obvious that some of the pre-race favorites had not taken the two girls seriously as a trio of one Kenyan and two Ethiopians began a frantic chase to try and catch up with the Japanese.

Should top elite athletes from Kenya run in the local races?

Peres Jepchirchir and Gladys Cherono. Photo from the Ottawa Race Weekend

At this year's Family Group (half) Marathon in Eldoret, Joyciline Jepkosgei, the world record holder of the women’s half marathon just won the local half marathon race here. She was followed by the 2014 Commonwealth Games’ marathon champion, Flomena Cheyech for 2nd place while the reigning Paris and Lille half marathon champion, Antonina Kwambai settled for 3rd place. This was just the Family Group’s Eldoret half marathon, a race that is not even in the process of trying to get into any IAAF label!
Almost every race in Kenya adds to their other various reasons for staging their races the intention of discovering and nurturing the local upcoming talents. But, the hard question comes in on whether such races should allow the well-established runners to run against the budding talents whose hopes are to beat them despite often running in the wrong shoes in order for them to be noticed by agents who will eventually assist them, if indeed to nurture them. One athlete was running with track spikes on the tarmac during the 21km race today. The elites use these races to gauge their readiness for their next races while the upcoming athletes are using it to try and get a break-through in their life’s careers.
Allowing big names in these local races are beneficial in a number of ways. It attracts more sponsors to support races financially in the hope that such names will help market the races far and wide and eventually the companies involved as well. It provides a platform for the upcoming runners to measure themselves up against the big stars and know how far they still need to go in order for them to shine too. It makes work easier for journalists who would just look up the internet for information about the winners.  It also brings more fans to the event venues as spectators would want to see the international stars that they usually watch on TV sets running live.
However, some issues come in as well.
Big managements usually require athletes to finish in the first three positions in the local races in order to sign with them. When the top three positions are swept by athletes who are already in good managements, then the upcoming runners will lack the opportunity to be recruited into the same managements who would support them with the necessary finances and facilitation to get into the big races that will help shape their careers.

Why professional athletes with East African origin are being sought to represent other nations

Photo courtesy of the Nairobi Marathon

If a journalist, a doctor, a farmer, a lawyer or any other professional is free to seek for greener pastures out of their countries, I do not see any good reason why runners should not have the same freedoms to move to a country where they believe their services will be more valuable and appreciated and settle there. Running is a profession just like any other.
This month, Kenyans continued to show their supremacy in long distance running by winning a number of races around the world, including the Chicago marathon, the Amsterdam and the Toronto Waterfront Marathon where Brigid Kosgei, Lawrence Cherono and Benson Kipruto, among others, won, defended both the men and women titles, or set new course records. This shows the surplus of talent available in Kenya alone, without extended it to the rest of the East African nations of Uganda, Tanzania and Ethiopia
There were some fans with some concerns last year when two Turkish athletes, Kaan Kigen Ozbilen and Can Yasemin, won the men and women European cross country titles and their origins were traced back to Kenya. Some fans seem to be uncomfortable with the fact that athletes with an East African origin who have changed their citizenships and now represent other nations are winning races for their new nations.
However, it is hard to pin-point the exact reason for the discomfort. Is it the fear that the East Africans are unbeatable? Is it the issue of unleveled playing field? Or, is it an issue with feelings?
Some runners have begun steering away from the notion that athletes with Kenyan origin have to be avoided in races for them to win and the results can be seen: USA’s Shalane Flanagan just beat the women’s marathon record holder, Mary Keitany to win the New York City Marathon; Galen Rupp beat the two times world champion, Abel Kirui to win the Chicago marathon while Sondre Moen of Norway beat Uganda’s world champion, Stephen Kiprotich to win the Fukuoka marathon.
In Kenya we import foreign professionals/experts to work in the medical, marketing, construction and in many other fields and many ends up becoming Kenyan citizens. Why can’t we allow other countries to export athletes from us too?
After all, we have thousands of Kenyans moving out of the country to work in other jobs too, ending up changing their citizenships in the process. At the moment, many Kenyans have changed their citizenships and settled in Australia, others have joined the US military. So, where is the problem with changing citizenships for sports’ purposes?

The 2018 Standard Chartered Nairobi Marathon happens this weekend and here are my thoughts on it

Athletes running in a past Nairobi Marathon event

Being arguably the biggest marathon in a country whose athletes dominate the whole world in long distance and road running, it is hard to understand why Nairobi marathon is not part of the biggest marathons in the world. It is further fabling to learn that it is not even one of the IAAF label road races.
The Nairobi Marathon, despite growing and increasing the registration fees each year, still offers the same prize money it used to offer ten years ago. A new race, the Eldoret City Marathon that was just established this year, could manage to pay double that prize for the winners despite the registration being free and still in the early stages of trying to find sponsors to join it. Nairobi Marathon can attract the world’s best runners and get more recognition internationally if it would do something about its prize money structure.

The Lagos Marathon in Nigeria, for example, offers a lot much more in prize money despite knowing very well that the money will likely be won by an outsider. Prize money won in the Nairobi marathon is often invested back in the country, and the more reason why the prizes should be increased.
For a race to qualify as an IAAF label race, there are a number of standards to be met. The Nairobi marathon meets most of them, from road closures, to measured and certified course, to availability of water and aid stations, among others.

Why every professional athlete should have their own website

It is encouraging to see many professional athletes beginning to create social media sites to interact with their fans and websites to put up their biographies, their achievements and the projects they are working on, among other information. In the near future, it seems it will be so easy for anyone to learn more about any athlete that wins a competition by combining their names into a URL address and seeing all the information they will need to know about them and all their sponsors in one place.
Below are some of the reasons why every professional athlete should be having their own website by now.
1.       It helps the athlete put up all the information about them in one single place.
Professional athletes have social media sites: Twitter, FaceBook, Instagram, etc. But, a perfect platform that with include all these in one place and any other information that the athletes would wish their fans to know about them is a personal website.
Some of my favorite athlete websites are Usain Bolt’s and Mo Farah’s and Vivian Cheruiyot’s .
2.       The athlete should benefit from their hard work and no one else should capitalize on their name and sweat.
The last time I checked, the sites that use the names of some of Kenya’s greatest athletes; for example Eliud Kipchoge and Asbel Kiprop, have completely nothing to do with the runners, and nothing even to do with running. Some domain names are parked for sale while others are online shops for some products not even related to running.
While it is hard to tell who the unknown people benefiting from the athletes’ sweat directing traffic to their sites are, the simplest thing to do for the athletes and their agents is to establish their own websites in their names. Pace Sports Management is doing a good work on this so far with their athletes.
3.       It helps the press, media, fans and race organizers to find information about the athletes more easily.
Instead of looking up for information of an athlete from the search engines, the best place would be on their websites where you will get everything about them, including stories out of their performances such as the projects and charities they support and their training.

Another one of the new emerging betting sites in Kenya

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The joy of running and finishing the 2018 Eldoret City Marathon together with my wife on the 22nd of April 2018

As I waited for my wife at the end of the finish chute where the officials had pushed me to, so that I would not cause more jam at the...