Kenyan athletes: eyes on the prize for Tokyo 2021

By Irene Escudero

Nairobi, Jun 16 (efe-epa).- Kenyan athletes were unable to fulfill their goals and dreams this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, but that has not deterred them for setting sights on the Tokyo Olympic podium.

In the small town of Duka Moja, southwestern Kenya, the running track straddles tea fields where once a week workers trim green leaves and toss them into baskets that they carry on their back.

Beatrice Chepkoech and Pauline Mutwa go running on the track every afternoon.

Before the coronavirus, a group would gather on the grounds where Chepkoech trained tirelessly to secure the 3,000-metre steeplechase world record at 8:44.32 in 2018, but the pandemic shuttered the training space.

The world champion returned to Duka Moja where she lives in a small and humble two-bedroom apartment with her husband alongside another couple of hundred athletes.

Last week her manager called her to say the Diamond League would resume in August in Monaco on 14 August in the same stadium where she broke the world record.

“I still have time,” she says confidently, adding that within a month or so she expects to be in shape for the competition.

When cancellations trickled in due to the risks of the coronavirus, disappointment spread among top-level athletes.

“It was so disappointing because, for me, I was really really aiming for the Olympics, so after they canceled everything, I was really discouraged,” the 28-year-old world tells Efe.

Many continued training until their physical therapists told them to slow down.

“We have told her to raise her feet because during the first few weeks it was crazy. Athletes had no competition insight but continued training as if there was no tomorrow,” physiotherapist of the NN Running team Marc Roig tells Efe.

Chepkoech took a vacation and spent several weeks at her parents’ house, a few kilometers from Kericho, helping them collect tea and gather wood, as she did during school holidays.

“I was thinking maybe this year there will be no more races. So then I decided to go back home, stay with my parents, help them, then later I decided to join my working place” at a Nairobi police station.

For the moment the world champion has enough to get by.

Her gold medal at the 2019 Doha World Cups came with a $ 60,000 cash prize and she has a Nike sponsorship deal under her belt from the same team who work with elite athletes like legendary marathon runners Eliud Kipchoge and Haile Gebrselassie, two-time Olympic gold and four-time world champion.

But cancellations have left some Kenyan athletes like Mutwa in difficult circumstances.

Mutwa had all her hopes pinned on the Vienna marathon, which was due to be held on 19 April and would have been her first international opportunity after failing to complete the race in Madrid.

She lives just two doors down from Chepkoech, whom she considers her mentor, and says that “before corona, I used to buy food with my own pocket but for now I don’t have any money, only a small food from the Ministry of Sports.”

With the money she got from national races and marathons when she was in the top 10, the 28-year-old athlete could pay rent, buy food and send things to her parents and her daughter who lives in Machakos, east of Nairobi.

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