Ivorian coach praises athletes for efforts to keep country in world map

Wednesday, May 27th, 2020 00:00 |
Eunice Sum celebrates during the World Athletics Championships in Beijing, China in 2015. INSET: Marie-Josee Ta Lou pulls away at the London World Championships in 2017. Her coach has praised Kenya’s prowess in the sport. Photo/Photo/FILE

Kenyan athletes’ zest, fervour and full of pep in athletics, has not only earned them admiration and recognition globally but has also venerated them as the Kings and Queens of athletics in Africa.

When Kenya got its independence from the UK in 1963, leaders of the young Republic promoted a sense of national unity using the motto “Harambee,” a Swahili word for ‘pulling together.’

This sentiment holds true even today in a country that blends the rich culture and traditions of dozens of varied groups that call it home, and one such rich culture, is the love for athletics.

Today, Kenya is a developing country economically, but in sports and in particular, athletics, Kenya is the ruler in Africa, according to Ivorian athletics coach Anthony Koffi.

A guest speaker at a Media Conference for the Promotion of Athletics in West Africa (COMPAAO) last Friday, coach Koffi while responding to a number of questions from journalists across the continent, including Kenya, the highly rated sprints coach did not mince his words when he crowned Kenya as the King of African athletics.

“Kenya is the pride of the world in athletics. For me, Kenya is number one in Africa. Why, because Kenya has many great athletes and most importantly, they have great performances in athletics.

Kenya has many world records in athletics. So if they train and take other field events seriously, then without a doubt, Kenya will be number one in the world,” said Koffi, coach of world and Africa multiple 400m champion Marie-Josée Ta Lou and youngster Cissé Gué, among others.

Kenya is known for her sterling  performances in middle and long distance races but with little to show in sprints. However, Koffi has a contrary opinion on Kenya’s ability to excel in short races.

“Let me tell you colleagues, the first African woman to reach 400m Olympic final, was Kenya’s Ruth Waithera clocking 51:56 a time which in 1984 was a great performance,” coach Koffi recalls the great and retired sprinter who is also a former African record holder in 400m and still holds the women’s 400m Kenyan record, 51.56 she set in the 1984 Summer Olympics. 

In 2008 Elizabeth Muthuka managed to break the record, but tested positive for doping, thus Waithera’s record remains to date.

“For history, in 1972 Summer Olympics, Julius Sang won bronze in 400m, Charles Asati made it to the finals.

The two along with teammates Robert Ouko and Munyoro Nyamau won gold for Kenya in 4 x 400m relay. In 1992 Olympics, Samson Kitur won bronze in 44:18. He is also the 1991, 1995 All-Africa Games gold medallist in 400m.

Kenya is a sprinting nation too, only that athletics administrators have overlooked the sport in recent times. Athletes like Charles Gitonga (44:20), Ezra Sambu (44:53) and Kennedy Ochieng (44:50) are all  great sprinters.

In 400m hurdles, the late Nicholas Bett got gold, Boniface Tumuti (47:78) got silver in 2016 Rio Olympics. In 4×400 in Olympics in 1968, Kenya won silver through  Asati, Munyoro Nyamau, Naftali Bon and Daniel Rudisha. In 1972 in Munich Kenya got gold, in 1988 and 1992, they made it to the finals.

And I remember in Dakar I had one athlete from Kenya who is a woman, Joyce Zakary. She ran 51:60.

She has all power, all talent to run 49 or 50 but she disappeared thereafter and I don’t know why,” he said.

Reflecting on what could have gone wrong with Kenyan sprinters, whose history dates back to just few years after the country got independence, coach Koffi, knows exactly where the rain started beating Kenya.

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