Tag Archives: sports

Kenya – the distance running powerhouse

Stereotypes sometimes exist with good reason. In the world of distance running, Kenya has produced exceptional athletes to date and has geographically given the region a name in stamina. However, a closer look reveals that most of the athletes have come from the Kalenjin tribe – a minority near the Rift valley, including hardly 11% of the Kenyan population. This has prompted researchers to study nvironmental and psychosocial factors surrounding the Kalenjin.

Research findings are eye openers. Unfavourable living conditions are uppermost in spurring Kenyan and particularly, Kalenjin youngsters towards running, in order to carve out a better future. International Kenyan runners have reportedly gained power, prestige and wealth, being among the few able to buy vast acres of farmland and getting much envied jobs in or being backed by the Kenyan Army and Kenyan Police. Adding to the aforementioned impetus are the favourable genetic components, the fact that running is inherent in the Kenyan way of life, and that the stamina is further developed by the 7,000 feet high altitude, moderate climate and a diet rich in energy giving cereals.

The pace was set for Kenyan supremacy in distance running by Kipchoge Keino who not only defeated the American favourite Jim Ryun in the 1500 m to win a gold medal at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, but also won by the largest winning margin in the history of the event – a record 20m. He went on to win yet another gold medal at the 3000 m steeplechase at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

Henry Rono was the next Kenyan to attract international attention when he broke 4 distance running records during the 1978 season. However, he could not make it to the Olympics due to Kenya’s boycott during his peak performance years. He has recently written his autobiography titled Olympic Dream (2007).

Paul Kibii Tergat nicknamed the ‘gentleman’ has dominated the marathon from 2003 – 2007. He has won silver medals for Kenya in the 1996 and the 2000 summer Olympics though he names cross country running as his passion rather than the marathon.

Catherine Ndereba, a marathon runner has a silver medal in the 2004 Athens Olympics while she has won several gold and silver medals at both international and continental championships.

The overall Kenyan picture presents a rags to riches story for most of the athletes
including Kipchoge Keino and Paul Tergat who have done brilliantly for themselves and their communities setting up schools in impoverished regions,
working towards combating malnutrition or even launching their own brand of
designer wear. Others such as Henry Rono have fallen to excesses such as alcoholism and mismanagement of their wealth resulting in penury.

Kenyan runners have maintained a close rivalry with Ethiopia and Morocco, yet
the fact remains – Kenyans have more runners amongst the top ranking lists of
the world than any other country. Paul Tergat (3), Nicholas Kemboi (4), Micah
Cogo (6), Paul Koech (7), Samuel Wanjiru (13), Eliud Kipchoge (14), Moses Masai (15), Sammy Kipketer (16), Moses Mosop (17), Richard Limo (19), Albert
Chepkurui (20), Charles Kamathi (21), William Segei (22), and John Korir (25)
are amongst the top 25 male runners in the 10,000 m race. Edith Masai (18) and
Tegla Loroupe (20) are amongst the top 25 female runners in the 10,000 m race.

Given the previous records of this powerhouse, it was not unusual to expect a Kenyan victory in distance running in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, yet it was a female runner from Ethiopia who clocked a world record at the 2008 Olympics in the 5000 metres. Luke Kibet, winner of the 2007 World Marathon Championship had been a favourite to win an Olympic Gold. However the post election ethnic violence in Kenya spurring a rift between the Kalenjin and the Kikuyus left him with a concussion and five stitches to the head. The wounds healed but the emotional scars did not. Fellow runners Lucas Sang who competed in the 1988 Olympics and Wesley Ngetich were brutally killed during the violence. Several others like Catherine Ndereba, Lucia Kimani (a Kikuyu), and marathoners Robert Cheruiyot and Martin Lel received death threats that disrupted their training schedules.

In spite of it all, the resilience of the runners has proven exemplary during the events leading to the Beijing 2008 Olympics and beyond. As we drift towards the 2012 Olympics observing how some runners have gone so far as to secretly escape to Namibia for training, it remains to be seen whether the lessons learnt from the endurance on the ground prevail on the field.

Image courtesy: http://world-track.org/2010/02/luke-kibet-plus-austrian-record-holders-set-for-vienna-city-marathon/

Olympics Through the Ages

Legend has Heracles as the originator of the Ancient Olympics. It is said that after completing his famous ‘twelve labours’ he built the ‘stadion’ [greek] , ‘stadium [roman] or ‘stage’ [English] to honor his father Zeus – the father of
all gods. He walked a distance of 400 strides in a straight line and called this distance a stadion. This is why a modern stadium is 400 metres in circumference.

The first Olympic games began in Olympia in 776 B.C. with Koroibos, a cook from nearby Elis winning the 600 feet long stadion race. Literary records show the ‘stadion’ as the only athletic event for the first 13 Olympics until 724 B.C.

The Olympics can be divided into two main periods. The Ancient Olympics from 776 B.C. through 393 A.D. – a period spanning almost 1200 years and the Modern Olympics reinstated in Athens, Greece after 1503 years in 1896 A.D. which continue till the present day.

A total of only 23 events were contested in the Ancient Olympics. They were divided into:

  • Men’s track and field                                                 8
  • Equestrian                                                                   8
  • Boys track and field                                                   5
  • Speciality events for heralds and trumpeters      2


In these categories, the pentathlon for boys (628 B.C.) and the Apene (mule cart race – 500 B.C.) were discontinued in 628 B.C. and 444 B.C. respectively. A few other sports deemed to be of great interest in those days have not been reinstated in the Modern Olympics. These include the Hoplitodromos (race in armor – 520 B.C.), Calpe (race for mares – 496 B.C.), Synoris (two horse chariot race – 408 B.C.) competitions for heralds and trumpeters (396 B.C.) and the Pankration for boys (200 B.C.).

The Ancient Olympics reached their peak around 5 B.C. as important religious festivals with contests alternating with sacrifices and rites in honour of Zeus and Pelops – a mythical King of Olympia famed for his chariot racing. Held every 4 years, the period between 2 celebrations became known as an Olympiad – used by the Greeks to count years. As the Romans gained power in Greece, the Olympics declined in importance. Emperor Theodosius I finally outlawed the festival in 393 A.D. citing the pagan rituals and nudity of the athletes – stemming from the ‘celebration of the achievements of the human body’ – as being in discord with Christian ethics

The Modern Olympic Games are the brainchild of French Baron Pierre de Coubertin who was searching for a reason for the French defeat in the Franco – Prussian War and Greek philanthropist Evangelos Zappas. These are now International multi-sport events. They include a few games from the Ancient Olympics such as the Pentathlon and the Stadion (now simply called races), while several new ones have been added over the years. Rule 48.1 of the Olympic Charter requires a minimum of 15 sports in the Summer Olympics. The IOC decided to limit the games to a maximum of 28 sports, 301 events and 10,500 athletes from 2002.

The first International Olympic Committee (IOC) games in 1896 had 241 athletes from 14 nations. Nine sports were included: athletics, cycling, fencing, gymnastics, weightlifting, shooting, swimming, tennis, and wrestling. The rowing event had to be cancelled due to bad weather.

The Summer Olympics used to feature figure skating and ice hockey before the beginning of the Winter Olympics. The recent 2006 Winter Olympics in Italy had 2633 athletes from 80 countries participating in 84 events in 7 sports. Within the sports of skiing and skating – cross country skiing, figure skating, ice
hockey, Nordic combined, ski jumping and speed skating events have featured
regularly at all Winter Olympics.

The Youth Olympic Games (YOG) is still being planned out after its approval in the IOC session in July 2007. It seems to be a reinstatement of the Boys events of the Ancient Olympics. The difference here is that both male and female athletes between ages 14 to 18 are envisioned to participate in games similar to their adult counterparts; the only difference being in duration with the summer version for 12 days and the winter version for 9 days.

Modern Olympics have seen changes in the inclusion criteria of sports. Rugby
was discontinued after the 1924 games wherein only 3 teams had participated.
Cricket met a similar fate to that of Rugby as IOC officials opined that Rugby and Cricket were too voluminous to fit into the already hectic timeframe of the Olympics. Baseball and softball will be discontinued from 2012 and there is speculation if games like the less popular modern pentathlon and the expensive white water canoeing would follow suit.  Rugby 7s, squash and karate were submitted for the 2012 games but got voted out.

Some demonstration sports exhibited by the host country till 1992 were later
included as full medal events. Recent additions in Olympic sports include
snowboarding and beach volleyball.

Some unusual sports in the Summer Olympics include:

  • Fencing is one of the only four sports found in all the Olympic Games.
  • Taekwondo was a demonstration sport at the 1988 and 1992 Summer Olympic Games, and became a medal sport at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia
  • Canoeing was a demonstration sport at the 1924 Paris Olympics with the USA winning all kayak events and Canada winning all canoeing events. It became an official sport in 1936
  • Synchronized swimming was introduced in the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.
  • Archery became an event in the Olympic Games in 1900 and was also featured in 1904, 1908 and 1920. Due to lack of international rules the sport was eliminated from the Olympic program until 1972 when it was reintroduced as outdoor target archery.
  • Equestrian’s Dressage was first in the Olympics in 1912 limited to military riders for the next 40 years. Now everyone can compete.
  • Water Polo was entered in the Olympics of 1900 with Britain and Belgium as the only participants. Women’s water polo was later introduced in the Sydney 2000 Olympics.

The winter specialities that are relatively recent and unusual include:

Winter Olympic Games.

  • The Snowboarding: the IOC decided to make it official in 1994 and it made its appearance at the 1998Nagano,Japan Winter Olympic games.
  • The Biathlon; combining cross country skiing with shooting with a 30 km relay was added in 1968. The 10 km sprint was added in 1980 and finally the women’s event in the biathlon was added in 1992
  • Luge races that involved sleds were part of the Olympics in 1964 in Innsbruck, Austria.

The Beijing 2008 Olympics featured a total of 302 events in 28 sports. The major events included judo, modern pentathlon, archery, athletics, baseball, basketball,
boxing, canoe/kayak flatwater, canoe/ kayak slalom, equestrian, fencing, football, gymnastics artistic, gymnastics rhythmic, gymnastics trampoline, rowing, sailing, shooting, hockey, handball, badminton, shooting, softball, swimming, diving, synchronised swimming,  table tennis, taekwondo, triathlon,
volleyball, beach volleyball, weightlifting, and water polo.

26 sports have been included in the programme for the London 2012 Olympics.

Pakistan’s Youth Policy – the paperwork and the paperweight

Pakistan’s development programme 2001 – 11 under the heading of ‘CULTURE, SPORTS, TOURISM AND YOUTH: TEN YEAR PERSPECTIVE’outlines lack of recreational facilities and vocational skill training as the prime issues facing the youth. It further delineates programmes to establish youth hostels and tourist resorts, create youth development centres and providing I.T. training as major goals. Youth empowerment by any other means and involvement in policy making is not at all touched upon, if ever indeed even spoken of as a possibility.

The PC-1 form of the ‘ten year perspective’ was revised in 2005. A deeper analysis may reveal what aspects were revised and how far ground breaking work overweighed paperwork. This article aims just to present the facts and not the analysis. It is up to the thinkers to process it all further. The PC-1 includes at the end, the briefest possible outline. Barely a passing reference is made to the ‘Youth’ sector. See for yourself:

Culture, sports, tourism & youth

•           Existing and projected flow of tourists in the country/project area.

•           Capacity of existing departments to maintain archaeological sites/museums.

•           Relationship of archaeological projects with internal and foreign tourism.

Mass media

•           Indicate area and population to be covered with proposed project.


•          Indicate benefits of the research to the economy.

•           Mention number of studies/papers to be produced.

•           Indicate whether these studies would result in commercial application of the process
developed (if applicable).

The 10-year time period is almost over and in 6 months we will reach 2012. The last two subheadings involve a great deal of paperwork and cannot be judged easily, but the citizens have every right to know what has been done for the first subheading written above. A subheading that ironically stands for four different sectors and mentions only two!

Our youth, the clichéd ‘asset’ of any country are disillusioned and dissatisfied with the current state of affairs. Will we continue to write papers on ‘indication’ of benefits of such and such a
project or is it time to start work on the paperwork already done in the preceding year. As long as paperwork is the oil that makes the machine go, we may never progress and the machine may continue to churn out … more paper.

Let’s see if in 2012 we finally learn from our decade of the mistake and not turn it into the mistake of the decade.