When Athletics Kenya chairman Isaiah Kiplagat made his stunning revelation before an audience in Nairobi in 2009 that the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) was considering staging the World Cross Country Championships without Kenya as a participant owing to the country’s dominance in the event, pundits took a deep breath.
It indicated that the event was dying a natural death. After ruling the event since 1986 when John Ngugi won Kenya’s first world title right up to 2011, Kenya has laid a stake on the World Cross Country Championships like a property of its own. In 1997, a committee within the IAAF that runs road running and cross country under German Otto Klappert introduced the shorter 4km for men and women, making it a total of six races in addition to the junior men and women and senior men and women.
Though the reason given was to expand cross country running, insiders however knew the idea was promoted to attract leading middle distance runners from other countries, especially from Europe in a bid to wrestle the strangle hold from the East Africans. It instead contributed to increasing Kenya’s medal tally. John Kibowen won the inaugural 4km race in Marrakeck, Morocco in 1998 and in all subsequent years. It also became a Kenyan affair.
In total Kenya has won 25 individual gold medals in the event and 79 team titles. However, Kenya’s icing on the cake was the 2010 edition held in Bydgoszcz, Poland, where the country scooped all medals on offer. This state of affairs has denied the event television rights and sponsorship from the corporate world that see no value it adds to their dominant European and American audience. Even getting a host for the event has proved an uphill task as envisioned by the fact that the Polish city of Bydgoszcz will be a repeat host in 2013 in a span of three years.
In their wisdom, athletics chiefs once again decided to make the World Cross Country Championships a biennial event, arguing the economic recession could not sustain some of IAAF’ s events. Instead, in between, continents will hold their respective championships. Is the marathon the next victim, thanks to Kenya’s success? That is the question from the lips of experts following Kenya’ s sterling performance in the event.
In January this year Athletics Kenya announced that they were spoilt for choice in selecting a team of six men and women marathon runners in their provisional squad for the London Olympics. This year alone, Kenyans have dominated the entire major city Marathons in the world. From Boston to London to Madrid, Kenyans have been winning the event like never before.
It is only one week since Kenyans swept the title in the Boston and London events. In the Boston Marathon, Kenyans have won a total of 21 men’s titles whereas in the latter’s 31 year history, Kenyans have recorded nine wins while the women have posted six victories. In fact Kenyan men own seven of the ten all time best Marathon times in history and 62 of the best 100 times while their female counterparts own three of the top best and 26 of the best 100 times. Kenya owns the men’s world marathon record, the men’s
Olympic title, the men’s and women’s world title, the Commonwealth Games title and the list is endless.
Former world marathon record holder and five times World Cross Country Champion Paul Tergat however, castigates the idea of what he terms as punishing success. “It is heartless for anyone anywhere to punish one for being successful. Victory belongs to those who work hard towards achieving and they should be rewarded instead of being victimized. No matter how many times an individual or group is successful they should never be ‘rewarded’ with a punitive action,” Tergat said in Nairobi.
Italian athletics manager Gianni Demadonna, who manages several elite
Kenyan runners, concurs with Tergat’s views saying competition is competition regardless of who wins. “Kenya has contributed immensely to the athletics world and should not be a victim of that success. American and
Jamaicans dominate in the sprints but no one has contemplated criminalizing their success. The same can be said about other sports,” Demadonna said in Nairobi recently during the mini-trial to select a team for the 10,000m London Olympic Games.