What you need to know:
- Stakeholders should not just bask in the glory of here and now but bake the future
When Soufiane El Bakkali made cunning use of the slow and tactical nature of the men’s 3000m steeplechase final to land a world title, the Moroccan’s feat did not go unremarked. And rightly so.
Over the years, Team Kenya athletes have proven adept at translating their distance running prowess to dominance in the water jump event. The statistics tell a story of how Kenyans used just the right mix of the genetics of nature and nurture to win 13 of the past 15 titles.
After Saif Saaeed Shaheen won consecutive world titles in 2003 and 2005, there were genuine fears that Team Kenya had sputtered to an ignominious halt. The fact that a Kenyan-born athlete running under the Qatari flag was the party popper turned out to be useful in soothing fears. Soon, there was vindication when normal service resumed.
Yet here we are, again. Kenyans watched with horror at the unpleasantness of it all as their streak of seven consecutive world titles in the event was snapped. In truth, even as Conseslus Kipruto heaped on world title on the back of another, Kenya never quite convinced as a steeplechase powerhouse.
When Ezekiel Kemboi’s durability started to show cracks after the 2015 Worlds, there was always a feeling that Kenya was less at ease than it appeared. And so it proved, with Bakkali waging a brutal battle for victory not just at the ongoing Worlds in Oregon but also the Tokyo Olympics.
As Team Kenya grapples with what appears to be straightforward condemnation, lessons should not be lost on Uganda. If plans to create a critical mass of quality distance runners continue to be treated like an afterthought, there’s a strong likelihood of not emerging from it all whilst smelling of roses.
Much unlike Team Kenya, Team Uganda has to ensure that dominance doesn’t end with the retirement of one larger-than-life athlete. While the ages of Joshua Cheptegei, 25, and Jacob Kiplimo, 21, might make such a debate appear to be premature; many following the ongoing Worlds have come away with the belief that we are heavily reliant on the two athletes.
Consequently, we have to diversify away from relying on the duo. The way of pulling this off is simple enough – groom young blood that will effortlessly slip into Cheptegei and Kiplimo’s spikes. But this is only half of the story. The fact that both Cheptegei and Kiplimo are nuanced, faintly enigmatic and closed-off means that the other half of the story barely makes it to the so-called public square.
It should, though.
The bitter truth is that Cheptegei and Kiplimo have pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps. This column will continue to persist in its urging of reform. There has got to be substantial goodwill from the government insofar as unearthing the next Cheptegei or Kiplimo is concerned.
Unfortunately, relevant state actors are not intentional about this. They see no wrong in basking in the glory of the here and now. I hate to break it to them, but the future also matters. A great deal, at that!
There will be such a time when Cheptegei and Kiplimo will exit the scene. The fact that the absolute certainty of this outcome puts it up there with death and taxes means that state actors cannot make it their business to do nothing.
For now, though, we can join the state actors by basking in the glory of Cheptegei and Kiplimo’s now customary podium finishes. They sure have bred an entitlement mentality akin to the one Kenyans enjoyed whenever a steeplechase title was up for grabs.
Make no mistake, I was happy as can be after Cheptegei tactfully took the kick out of his rivals before using a final circuit of 53.42 to become a back-to-back winner of the 25-lap event. The 25-year-old could of course go one better by completing the long-distance double. To do this, he will need to win the 5000m final in the wee hours of Sunday morning.
This column wishes him every good fortune!
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