Thursday, January 31, 2008

Kenyans' Training Suffers As Violence Continues

Kenya's Ezekiel Kemboi wins the Sydney gold medal of the men's 3,000m steeplechase final

The East African nation of Kenya is embroiled in post-election violence over a dispute in a close presidential election. The violence has already claimed the lives of marathoner Wesley Ngetich and Lucas Lang, a former Olympic 400-meter competitor.

Violence is mounting over the legitimacy of President Mwai Kibabi’s narrow victory over Raila Odinga in late December. Kibaki, from the majority Kikuyu tribe, announced victory while it was reported that Raila Odinga, who is from the Luo tribe, was ahead in the polls.

The ethnic violence, previously rare in Kenya, is reminiscent of the strife that led to the genocide in Rwanda in 1994.

More than 50 Kenyan athletes have become targets in their homeland and have received death threats, including former World Steeplechase champion Moses Kiptanui. Rumors continue to circulate that the athletes were involved in stirring up ethnic killings, and the athletes have been forced to cut training.

Some runners are concerned that they will struggle at the World Cross Country Championships in March and Beijing in August.

Ezekiel Kemboi, the reigning Olympic 3,000m steeplechase champion, said yesterday that he was training only once a day instead of the usual three times. "You can't run here now unless it's fully light," he said. "I know my chances of Olympic success are going down, but I have seen the cuts on Lucas Sang's body."

Kemboi isn’t alone in his hesitation to train. Running has ground to halt in Kenya. Sports officials have cancelled two Kenya Federation cross-country races scheduled for January. Some runners have been unable to go to competitions abroad, including 13 Kenyans who were absent from the Rock 'n' Roll Arizona Marathon and Half Marathon scheduled in Phoenix.

Running camps sponsored by retired Kenyan stars and shoe giants Nike and Adidas were closed for several days because it was too dangerous for people to venture outside. These camps have begun to reopen over the last week as athletes slowly returned.

We hope Kenyan leaders negotiate a peaceful ending to this violent political conflict. People are dying and lives are being irrevocable changed.

By Jay Hiks, a.k.a. Track Evangelist

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