Gold For Kenya 2030
The secret to hitting the target when using a bow and arrow is in your breathing. This has been known for more than 10,000 years since the first bow was invented. Certain tribes may dispute, but Europeans claim to have used bows and arrows then. The typical arrow shaft was made of pine with a flint stone as the point. Prior to the invention of guns and gunpowder, mastery of the longbow was so important that one English king; Edward III made mastering the longbow compulsory for boys over 14. In modern times archery has become more of a sport than a matter of life and death in the countries where it is practiced. It is one of the oldest Olympic sports having appeared 14 times since its debut in 1900. Since 1988, Korea has been the dominant nation winning 18 of the 28 gold medals on offer.
To shoot an arrow, an archer must first have the correct stance. This requires his body to be perpendicular to the target with his feet placed firmly shoulder width apart. This allows the bow to be held pointing at the target, with the body aligned to the forces that will be generated to propel the arrow forward. The bowstring and arrow are held with three fingers. The arrow is placed between the index finger and the next two fingers. The archer then raises the bow to eye level in one smooth motion and pulls back on the bow.
Before release of the arrow if you looked from above the back muscles and elbow of the archer would form a ‘T’. With the bow drawn out to the required tension, the arrow is released by relaxing the fingers holding the arrow. The idea is to keep the drawing arm rigid, the bow hand relaxed so that it is the back muscles that move the arrow. Done correctly with the aim set accurately, the arrow should travel to the bull’s eye. So whereas to the casual observer archery is about the arms, it is more about coordination of the arms with the chest and back muscles.
This coordination at Olympic games level requires years of practice. People who study high-level performance say that it requires 10,000 hours of dedicated practice to be world class. Work these hours out and it means that to be in the Olympics in your 20s means that you must start training at the very latest around the age of 10 years. And here is where in Kenya, there are major problems. The minor problems include a lack of desire by the country to invest in the infrastructure and systems needed to identify and nurture the necessary talent. Much more significant is the problem of the average health of the pool from where the talent is being recruited.
Take Korea as an example. The death rate for children under five is just 4.9 per 1,000. In Italy it is 3.7 per 1,000. In China it is higher at 18.4 deaths per 1,000. But this does not even begin to compare to Kenya where the under-five children death rate is 84.7 deaths for every 1,000 children (8.5%). The three mentioned countries happen to be the countries that won the most medals in archery in the 2012 Olympics. What kills Kenyan children? Acute respiratory infections and asthma are major causes morbidity and mortality in Kenyan children. The underlying risk factors are poor socioeconomic status, incomplete immunisation, malnutrition and late care seeking and inadequate treatment.
A child who develops a respiratory disease usually starts off with symptoms of cough, fever and tiredness. They have chest pain often made worse by the cough. Many have shortness of breath, breathing fast and shallow. Even if the child survives an episode of pneumonia they are often scarred for life just a little weaker than their age mates who never had such a major disease. This is the child who is part of the pool available for selection to participate in the Olympics 10 to12 years from today. They have no chance of excelling even if the equipment and training was available. In archery, as you release the arrow, key to a perfect release is to control your breathing. The very best, release the arrow exactly half way as they effortlessly exhale. Their lungs are fit.
So how can Kenya win medals in the first week of the Olympics? Sort out childhood illnesses such as pneumonia. Currently just 56 per cent of children aged five years with suspected pneumonia are taken to appropriate health providers. Only 50 per cent receive the necessary antibiotics. An inspired leader can within a generation make Kenya a real powerhouse by sorting out these solvable health problems.