ISTANBUL- Hürriyet Daily News
Turkey eyes its first-ever medals in men’s long distance races in the Olympics and lays its hopes on three athletes born and raised in Kenya, the sport’s powerhouse
Tarık Langat Akdağ hope to better his fellow Kenyans and win medals in long distance races for Turkey in the 2012 Olympic Games in London. Reuters photo
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Turkey hopes to win Olympic medals in men’s long distance races for the first time in history. It may happen with a little help from its Kenyan friends.
Kenyan-born athletes Polat Kemboi Arıkan and Tarık Langat Akdağ returned from last month’s European Athletics Championships with medals, and along with İlham Tanui Özbilen, Turkey has reasons to believe that more medals could come at the Olympic Games in London.
Langat won a silver medal in Helsinki in the men’s 3,000-meter steeplechase, while Kemboi grabbed two: a gold in the 10,000-meter race, and a bronze in the 5,000 meters.
In Beijing, Turkey enjoyed two silver medals from Elvan Abeylegesse, who was behind Tirunesh Dibaba in both the 5,000- and 10,000-meter races. Those were Turkey’s first-ever medals from a female track and field athlete, and came from Ethiopian-born Abeylegesse. The Kenyan trio, who were only cleared to run for Turkey ahead of the World Indoor Athletics Championships in March, hope to add to the list.
Kemboi’s bronze medal in the 5,000 meters was remarkable. His shoe came off his foot in the middle of the race, but Kemboi managed to put the shoe back on and catch the frontrunners to hold on to a medal.
“It was good,” he remembers. “I was a little bit down after I lost my shoe, but then I carried on and managed to get a medal. Someone stepped on the back [of the shoe], I don’t know who it was, but I was not discouraged. Elbows and pushes
Long distance races are always hard to run, with elbows and pushes being a common practice in the race.
“It is always difficult for athletes. But I did not lose hope, I was targeting what I was supposed to do,” Kemboi says. “If I did not have the shoe problem, I would have gotten something more than the bronze.”
He is a comfortable character, and does not seem to be fazed by Olympics fever.
“I have a medal now, but what is the difference?” he says. “The world’s best athletes, and more experienced athletes, [will be] there [at the] Olympics. … It’s a tactical game, you cannot rush, you have to relax. Don’t rush, relax and anything can happen. In the end, we will see [what will happen]. But I want to be in the final.” Tarık Langat Akdağ is also confident ahead of the London Games.
“If it’s a slow race, anyone can win in the last lap. So a medal could come again,” he says, adding that doing well in the heats and advancing to the final will be an important first step. “In the final, I will fight for the medal. That’s my target.”
Langat adds that French
Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad, who won ahead of him in Helsinki, might again be the man to beat, but he is aware that many of his fellow Kenyans will be in line, if he makes it to the final.
“[Knowing their styles] is an advantage for me,” the soft-spoken athlete says. “But of course they are not happy about my challenging them in the top three; they want a sweep.”
However, it was not Langat’s choice to represent Turkey. It is just the way the competition is.
“It is normal; everyone is fighting for the medal,” he says. “Before the race, nobody says ‘Hi’ to the other, but after the race, everyone congratulates each other.”
Now both athletes are training in high altitude in Kenya. While Kemboi is not overloading, Langat is working on his speed. Both spend half of their time in Kenya and the rest in Turkey.
“It is now one year and two months [since I came to Turkey],” Kemboi says. “Everyone is friendly. Friendship, social life, and everything is okay. If someone sees me in the streets, they say ‘merhaba’ [hello] as a sign of respect. I’m very happy to represent [Turkey].”