Kenya Seeks To Place Blame For Helsinki Flop

By Isa Omok
Updated: September 19, 2005

NAIROBI— Money-conscious managers are to blame for persuading Kenyan athletes to run too many races on the lucrative European circuit with the result that Kenya flopped at the world championships, critics say.

The east African country suffered its worst performance in years at last month’s world championships in Helsinki, winning only one gold through 31-year-old Benjamin Limo in the 5,000 metres, despite a successful season on the European circuit.

“Kenyans are now Grand Prix athletes, not championships material,” said Yobes Ondieki, the first man to run under 27 minutes in the 10,000 metres and a world 5,000m champion in 1991 in Tokyo.

Athletics Kenya officials have accused managers of entering athletes in too many meetings.

“We are investigating two of them and if evidence is adduced that they affected the performance of our athletes in Helsinki, we shall not renew their contracts,” said Athletics Kenya secretary general David Okeyo.

National coach Danson Muchoki said managers sometimes arranged bonus payments for course records with meeting directors, which inspired athletes to run better.

“This is a straight race without qualifying rounds. You win, with the help of pace setters and pick up your money — unlike the tedious qualifying rounds in championships,” said Muchoki.

A top National Olympic Committee of Kenya official accused some foreign managers of interfering with training programmes.

“They give wrong tips to their athletes, hence the lack of teamwork among the Kenyan athletes. This is a major problem,” said the official.


One athlete who was a medal prospect in Helsinki ran seven races before the world championships, instead of the two that had been agreed upon between Athletics Kenya and the runner.

Kenyan athletes have long been considered to be among the most talented in the world but the country is smarting from defections by a host of top athletes who then win medals for their adopted nations.

Saif Saaeed Shaheen, formerly Stephen Cherono, won the world steeplechase gold for Qatar in Helsinki — his second world title — after becoming a Qatari citizen for economic reasons in 2003.

World record holder Shaheen still trains and has a family home in Kenya but said last month that he had been asked to leave by Kenya’s Sports Minister.

Shaheen receives a monthly stipend of $5,000 for life from Qatar and was promised $250,000 for winning the world title.

Up to 40 Kenyans have followed suit, changing allegiance to Qatar and Bahrain, prompting the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) to strengthen its nationality rules. Athletes who have represented their native land must now wait for three years after obtaining citizenship to represent a new country.

In Helsinki, Kenyan assistant coach Peter Mathu complained about interference from athletes’ agents.

“”We can’t go anywhere if agents are literally running athletics in this country, controlling our calendar of events and giving conflicting instructions to athletes from what coaches are doing,” he said.


Several Kenyans who had been expected to do well in Finland produced disappointing performances.

Daniel Kipchirchir Komen went to Helsinki as favourite in the 1,500m after the withdrawal of Moroccan Olympic champion, Hicham El Guerrouj.

The 21-year-old Komen, who had won at the Kenyan trials, finished sixth in the first round, not even making the semi-finals.

Komen had set the world’s second fastest time of three minutes 30.31 seconds when he won the Paris Golden League meeting on July 1 and had run 3:30.77 to win in Doha, Qatar, at the Super Grand Prix on May 1.

Komen, who ended the season this month as the top-ranked 1,500m runner ahead of Kenyan-born American Bernard Lagat and Ukrainian Ivan Heshko, was not the only Kenyan to run well on the circuit and flop in Helsinki.

Isaac Songok beat the then world 5,000m champion Eliud Kipchoge in the Kenyan trials.

He repeated his victory over Kipchoge at the Rome Golden League meeting with a personal best of 12:52.29, the season’s second fastest time. In Helsinki, the 21-year-old former world 1,500m youth champion was 10th in the final.

Kipchoge, who finished fourth with 13:33.04, later won the Brussels Golden League in 12:50.22.

Kenyan athletes form a contrast with their Ethiopian rivals, who run selectively prior to major championships such as Olympics and still bring results.

Kenenisa Bekele won 5,000m gold in Helsinki but went ahead to slice nearly three seconds of his 10,000m world record at the Brussels Golden League with 26:17.53.