With Kenyan women taking all six medals, albeit in their speciality events, the marathon and the 10,000 metres, on the first day of the World Championships in Daegu, their acceleration into the same stratosphere as their men is complete. It is not beyond the realms of possibility for them to add one or more medals in the 800, 1500 and 5000 metres too. And given the men’s chances of winning a few gongs too, what a week it promises to be for the Kenyan team.
But it’s the Kenyan women who have set the scene.
Twenty years ago, I used to muse about British women’s success in championships like the Commonwealth Games that it was largely due to suppression of and lack of opportunities for women in the Third World societies which were and are a major part of the Commonwealth constituency. That may still be the case in many areas of less developed societies, but clearly not in Kenyan athletics.
The women themselves, abetted by men who are not threatened by successful women have proved that when it comes to turning base mettle into gold, anything ‘they’ can do, ‘we’ can do too; and sometimes better.
Admittedly, their Ethiopian rivals, both men and women, are going through a downturn in fortunes, from which they will certainly revive, there is no question about that. But for the time being let us celebrate the inheritors of the pathfinder general, Kipchoge Keino, whose victories in the Olympic Games of Mexico City 1968 and Munich 1972 started the surge whose most recent peak took Edna Kiplagat and Vivian Cheruiyot first through the finish line of the marathon and 10,000 metres respectively; followed by Priscah Jeptoo and Sharon Cherop on the road; and by Sally Kipyego and Linet Masai on the track; oh, and for good measure, Priscah Cherono was fourth in the 25 lapper, pushing Berlin silver medallist Mesalech Melkamu of Ethiopia even further back.
Husbands are not often the most understanding of men, especially when the wife strays onto their territory.
But, as David Monti reports on the IAAF website, when Gilbert Koech started coaching his wife, Edna eight years ago, he quickly realised that she had probably got more of what it takes to be a champion than himself.
“When I see the history of her, she’s a good racer and she’s a good fighter,” Koech said. “When she was in World cross country, I see the race she was running, and she wasn’t getting any kind of training. I had a small group, and she was the only lady and I tell her, ‘if you are patient, you will be at the top of the world.’”
A marathon runner, and winner, in his own right, it didn’t take too much to convince Koech that he should shelve his own career, and direct that of his wife.
When Kiplagat won the LA Marathon last year, agent Brendan O’Reilly told Koech, ‘You have to dial back your own running career’. He thought about it for two days, and he said, ‘Brendan, you’re right.’”
And the result, and its corollary – seven Kenyan women ahead of the whole distance running world – was plain for all to see.
Although he probably didn’t believe it himself, Chairman Mao was fond of saying, ‘Women are half the sky’. In Kenya, they are at least half of the Rift Valley. And there looks to be a lot more to come.