There’s no greater sports fan than Carol Radull. So what did she make of Team Kenya’s performance at London 2012?
When I was in Thailand in 2009, the question the locals continued to ask was: “Do you run marathons?” I was a little slenderer back then… But to be mistaken for a long-distance athlete? At first I found it a bit stereotypical. But then I felt proud that Kenya was known for something so positive.
Fast forward to 2012. It’s unlikely anyone would mistake me for an athlete now (if you know what I mean), but Kenya’s reputation for producing world-class runners is even greater. And, after Beijing 2008 – where we secured 14 medals, six of them gold – expectation for the London Olympics was running high.
The first week of the Games is a formality, isn’t it? We do not participate in disciplines such as archery or football at this level (though we should). No, we focus on what we’re good at – and what is affordable – and that is running. So we waited until the first Friday. It was late. Pubs were full and social halls were buzzing with fans eager to see Kenya lift her first gold.
Vivian Cheruiyot had had a superb year in the 10,000m; those who follow the event closely knew Ethiopia’s Tirunesh Dibaba was actually favourite to win, but many Kenyans did not. As Dibaba left Vivian nearly half a lap behind to take gold, it was tough to bear.
I watched in a pub in Nairobi and the crowd went from wild cheers to gasps of horror. Eventually, though, we all fell into fits of laughter: the Kenyan way of making Vivian’s loss easier to bear.
The race was Kenya’s first final, so we were still hopeful of victories elsewhere. Faith was restored by Ezekiel Kemboi in the 3,000m steeplechase and, of course, by 800m world record-holder David Rudisha. But it wasn’t to be the Olympics we’d looked forward to.
The poor performance by Team Kenya has raised concerns among athletics fans. Even President Mwai Kibaki has demanded to know what went wrong. The Sports Ministry is holding an Olympics post-mortem; at the time of going to press, its report had not been released.
But it seems quite obvious what went wrong.
It’s no secret that Athletics Kenya (AK) and the National Olympics Committee of Kenya did not get along. Just before the Games the two clashed over where the team should train – Bristol, in England, or Nairobi – with AK preferring Nairobi. But Bristol was confirmed in 2011; I heard about it at a function to mark 500 days to the Olympics. Why, then, did it take 450 days for AK to say no, disrupting the athletes’ preparations?
Also, were Kenyans too confident going into the Games, having dominated all the Diamond League events prior to it? And why were athletes allowed to take part in Diamond League meets right up to a week before the Olympics? Surely fatigue would affect their performances?
Kenya still clinched 11 medals in London, compared to 14 in Beijing. It was the gold medal tally – which dropped from six to two – that hurt. But our athletes still qualified for the greatest show on earth. While we do need to up our game, Kenya just being represented at the Olympics will inspire the young for years to come.