Olympic Defeat Was About Poor Tactics
The dismal performance by the Kenyan team to the 2012 London Olympics was due to lack of tactics. Kenya had a strong athletics team that was capable of winning at least six gold medals. Their coming home with only two sees us at a cross road. The athletes should not be blamed for the poor performance. Blame lies squarely on the uncoordinated preparations before and at the Olympics where despite having the best runners we got few medals contrary to the expectations of everyone.
The Kenyan Olympic team failed to institute a winning formula to grab gold medals even after qualifying for the finals. The final results were devastating. I fault the coaches for the poor show. The athletics team only needed to be guided on how to win. The strategies employed failed. They looked like lone rangers. After the selection of the team to the Olympics at the trials what remained was to polish them and create team work. But they were offered hard training.
The morale of the runners was at the lowest ebb and they suffered psychologically. They needed their coaches to be very close and to counsel them. This did not happen and the team even left the country in disarray. Vivian Cheruiyot lost her title not because she was unable to run but because there was no teamwork and tactics and she lost to the Ethiopians in both 5,000m and 10,000m. The same happened in other events.
I tried in vain to reach out to our 2008 Beijing Olympics 800m gold medalist Pamela Jelimo to tell her to start her final sprint at 150m, because I knew South Africa’s Caster Semenya would sprint at 100m. Lack of such tactics failed as she sprinted from 400m which was wrong. The Kenyan team was under intense pressure in London and there was something wrong right from the start. The team which was scheduled to camp at Bristol refused. Instead athletes trained separately jeopardising the spirit of team work.
Athletes are not supposed to be under any form of duress or pressure before an event. Coaches are supposed to keep the athletes together. This was a step that failed. The government should also think seriously of developing other sporting disciplines to broaden our chances of winning medals instead of depending on athletics alone at international games.
The training stadiums are in a deplorable state. The government must take a deliberate step to reconstruct them as the places that produced sportsmen of international repute are now in a state of shame. Look at the state of Kipchoge Keino Stadium in Kapsabet, a field that produced legendary athletes like Kipchoge Keino who is now an official of the International Olympic Committee and chairman of the National Olympic Committee of Kenya, Henry Rono and Pamela Jelimo among many others.
What happened to our volleyball team which is one of the best in Africa, boxing, tae kwon-do, weight lifting, swimming, hockey and even our skiers who managed to get a Kenyan flag flying during Winter Olympic Games? Our runners did not get adequate preparations before the Olympics after the management failed to convince them to train in England and acquaint themselves to the weather conditions.
I led the Kenyan athletic team to the 1988 Seoul Olympics as head coach. We managed four track gold medals. Paul Ereng won 800m, Peter Rono took 1,500m gold, John Ngugi won 5,000m and Julius Kariuki took the 3,000m steeplechase. Douglas Wakiihuri won a men’s marathon silver medal, Peter Koech took the steeplechase silver while Kimeli Kipkemboi won the 10,000m bronze medal.
In the team I led to the 1991 Tokyo World Championship, Moses Tanui and Yobes Ondieki each grabbed gold in 10,000m and 5,000m respectively. This proves we can do wonders in athletics if everyone concentrates and does his part. There has to be coordination. The biggest challenge now is for the athletics fraternity, stakeholders and other concerned groups to sit down and iron out their differences to forge a way forward for the country.
Blaming one another cannot solve the problems facing the sport in the country. Athlete managers and their coaches should stop trading blame. The Ministry of Sports and Athletics Kenya should roll out training programmes for coaches and other athletics managers so that in future Kenya could have a good working structure like that of Ethiopia.
In Ethiopia, unlike us, athletes are properly catered for by the government so they are not allowed to compete and burn themselves out until the international games are over. Here our runners, in search of quick money when they are in top form, burn themselves out very quickly such that by the time major championships come around, they have nothing left.
The author is a former Kenya Olympic team head coach.