Two aspiring Kenyan female athletes seeking to be pioneer Olympians in Modern Pentathlon and Rowing at the Rio 2016 are charting different routes to attain their prized goal.
They are Coral Hays and Diana Natecho.
Hays, a 16-year-old student at Hillcrest, has set her eyes on a rare qualification in Modern pentathlon. She will be shifting her secluded training to the UK to step up her chances of qualifying at the African Championships to be held in Cairo in August.
Modern Pentathlon comprises five events: fencing, 200 m freestyle swimming, show jumping, and a final combined event of pistol shooting, and a 3200m cross-country run.
Natecho, 22, a slum dweller from Mombasa hopes to become the first woman rower from Sub-Saharan African to qualify for the world’s biggest sporting fiesta.
She has been training with her Tudor Water Sports teammates, tentatively for the World championships in France that will also be held in August in order to boost her qualification chances during the African qualifiers in Tunisia weeks later.
There is a contrast between the two athletes.
Preparations for the deeply talented Natecho who is the 2011 All African Games silver medalist involves participation in the Lightweight women’s single sculls competitions in France and Tunisia.
Natecho’s qualification doubtful
Both are doubtful because she cannot foot her travel to the two obligatory championships.
Seif Patwa, the chairman of the Kenya Rowing and Canoeing Association explained: “We gave NOCK (National Olympic Committee of Kenya) a budget to facilitate the qualification of five rowers months ago. But there has been no answer and we are in a limbo. We don’t how many they can support or if they can’t support us and deadline to pay for participation, accreditation are fast approaching.”
Natecho is likely to rue the missed opportunity for a long time despite her Federation’s’ efforts to secure her accommodation and a rowing boat at both competition venues.
“She really needs all the help to attend and participate in France and Tunisia with her coach and technical official. We have secured her accommodation in both venues and free use of a rowing boat. We now need air tickets, visa and travel insurance,” Patwa added.
Family support boosts Hays
In comparison, Hays, is fortunate enough to have the support of the family and her Federation currently headed by Fridah Shiroya, who is also the NOCK treasurer.
Her journey to become the first Kenyan qualify in the sport dominated by Europeans is clearer. She has confirmed her participation and will travel to Cairo for the August 18-23 qualifier.
“We are proud and supportive of our daughter. There has been a huge amount of investment on our part for her to succeed as a pentathlete. She has to train and be good in all five disciplines. We do for it for the love of sport,” said her mother Sharon Garner Kenya’s first female jockey, highlighting the important role parents play in sponsoring their children’s’ sporting careers locally where Government, corporate and Olympic committee’s support is sporadic.
Hays had a chance to experience top-flight competition when she competed in the pentathlon world cup last year in Cairo. In this competition, she garnered significant championships experience that should help her in the continental qualifiers. She also competed in the Great Britain Youth International championships where she ranked eighth out of the 13 competitors.
Hays’ got acquainted with pentathlon as a student in the UK and is currently coached by a Kenyan-based former German pentathlete here in Nairobi.
Hays strong swimmer,runner and rider
“While schooling in the UK she practiced the technical sports that is fencing and shooting. But she is a natural good runner, she has been horse riding since she was young and is a strong swimmer. She will train alongside her friend who is in the British pentathlon team in the UK for a month and is also enlisted to join a fencing camp,” added Garner who is hopeful that NOCK will cater for her travel expenses to Cairo.
The budding teen will train in London for a month before heading out to the qualifiers in Cairo. Hays is also lined to compete at the prestigious Inter Schools Show Jumping Championships at Hickstead on August 6. Egypt, Morocco, South Africa and Tunisia are the only African countries that have managed to qualify athletes in the modern pentathlon whose winners’ score on table points.
The competitor’s performance determines their starting position in the combined running and shooting event and the athlete who finishes first in the combined event (running and shooting) is the overall winner.
Natecho seeks public, corporate support
For now Natecho is hoping that local supporters can facilitate her travel to France and Tunisia as she seeks to become only the third Kenyan rower to compete at the Olympics.
Ibrahim Githaiga, was the first Kenyan rower to compete in an Olympics in Athens while Matthew Lidaywa Mwange was in Beijing.
NOCK in the meantime plans to launch a road to Rio which will jumpstart their fundraising efforts for the Ksh.300 million which they hope will help the qualified teams prepare for the games in Brazil but are non committal on the level of support they can offer to athletes seeking qualification for now.
Talk of backing the cause but not the means!