Distractions threatening to derail medal hopes of Kenya

Distractions threatening to derail medal hopes of Kenya

NAIROBI - Reuters
Distractions threatening to derail medal hopes of Kenya

Vivian Cheruiyot (C) leads Mercy Cherono (L) and Magdalene Masai in the 5,000m at Crystal Palace on July 13. AFP photo

Kenya has assembled one of its strongest teams for an Olympic Games but the team may need “a counselor, psychiatrist and psychologist” to resolve a myriad of personal and legal issues threatening to derail the athletes’ medal ambitions in London.

World 3,000 meters steeplechase champion Ezekiel Kemboi has been accused of stabbing a woman and faces a court case in September, while double world champion Vivian Cheruiyot, a favorite in 5,000m and 10,000m, is embroiled in a domestic dispute that has ended up in court.

David Okeyo, Athletics Kenya secretary general, told Reuters Kemboi’s medal chances would improve by getting out of the country.

“We are happy that Kemboi has gone to complete his training in Bristol,” he said. “...That will make him concentrate more on the Olympics instead of here at home where he was obviously being weighed down by the court case.”

Cheruiyot’s fiancé Moses Kirui has been taken to court by his ex-wife, marathon runner Caroline Kwambai, over maintenance of their three children. “She is a strong medal prospect that we would not wish to be distracted from the Games,” said Okeyo.

A former athlete, who did not want to be identified, said both athletes need counseling to keep up their concentration. “This is one of the best teams Kenya has ever assembled, but these side shows are dealing a big blow to its preparations. They need a counselor, psychiatrist and psychologist in the camp to deal with these matters,” said the former Olympian.

Kenya’s road to London has been rocky. Even before the June 23 athletics trials the National Olympic Committee of Kenya (NOCK) and the track and field ruling body Athletics Kenya (AK) were on collision course over Olympics training venues.

Simmering tensions exploded after it was revealed athletes selected for the Games would camp in Bristol in an arrangement made between the City of Bristol, NOCK and Kenyan authorities. “We were not put in the picture and none of our officials was present at that event where the plans were made to have the Kenyan team in Bristol before the Games,” said AK Chairman Isaiah Kiplagat.

Communication seen by Reuters revealed that AK had its own plans to send athletes to another camp in England, but NOCK and the government, who are funding the Olympics preparations and participation, did not approve it.

Most elite athletes declined to train in Bristol, citing its low altitude as opposed to the advantageous high altitude in Kenya, which they assert will favor their Olympics preparation.

This left only sprinters, field events athletes, a swimmer, two boxers and a weightlifter to travel to Bristol with a hefty delegation of officials.

A senior AK official then had his travel to the Games withdrawn for allegedly allowing athletes to leave camp after the trials without informing NOCK.

Athletes snubbed two important farewell functions, one of them presided over by the prime minister, and another sponsored by mobile telephone provider Safaricom, who used the occasion to announce its incentive scheme to Olympic medalists - 1 million shillings ($11,900) for gold, 750,000 shillings for silver and 500,000 shillings for bronze medalists.

Even in Bristol, controversy has dogged the Kenyan team with 4x400m specialists Anderson Mureta and Mark Mutai being sent back home.

“The two were not in our team. They did not qualify for the Olympics during our qualifications competition in African Championships in Benin,” said Kiplagat.
“How did they end up in Bristol?”