Demystifying sprints in Kenya

Oct 11, 2021

You might have heard it in various forums touching on why Kenya doesn’t perform well in the sprints ‘we are only good in the distance races,’ ‘we need equipment and state of the art facilities to prosper in these events’ to‘only west Africans are good at it’ ....

These are just myths or excuses that justify our neglect of these events and the athletes that take part in them. Muscle fibers influence ones ability to prosper in a specified event and one can train to improve.

We have continuously bombarded our athletes with all the above negative false beliefs little wonder their goals are low and with it their self esteem, let me take it out of context briefly, as a parent if you continuously tell your kid that they are nothing and can never amount to anything then don’t expect to have a motivated top in class kid.

We are quick to forget that Kenyans have excelled in the sprints in the recent past, Samson Kitur silver medalist 400meters 1992 Barcelona Olympics, Charles Gitonga 1994 Gold medalist 400 meters Commonwealth games, Joseph Gikonyo African champion 100/200 meters 1991, 4x400 meters relay team silver medalists in the 1993 world championships and the list goes on.

So what is wrong with our current crop of sprinters? The above mentioned athletes who won these ‘rare’ medals had one thing in common…they trained and featured for clubs abroad, but does being based abroad in itself make you a better athlete?

Yes and No.Yes since you get the best in terms of coaching expertise and nutritional advice and No because you still can get the same locally if only we stopped burying our heads in the sand. This scenario takes care of the myth that Kenyans are only made for the long races. To change our fortunes in the sprints requires that we fix our coaching.

Looking at the just concluded African championships which we hosted, Kenya finished top in Africa thanks to the unprecedented medals that came from the sprints and a few from the field events…in the run up to these and many more championships you always hear people proclaim that we will dominate every event from 800 meters upwards!!!

By winning some medals in the sprints Kenyan runners sent out a message to the powers that be. All our sprint athletes exhibited raw talent. Raw because they had not undergone professional coaching.

Otherwise how do you explain an athlete receiving a relay baton from a standing start facing the incoming runner, a long jumper approaching and hitting the board at jogging pace, a 100 meter athlete leaving the blocks and immediately getting into upright running into their second stride!!

Technically we looked like novices – whom should we blame this time, the athlete, genetics, altitude, weather, Facilities??

That we had athletes who showed up in these championships without any evidence of strength training or even technical know how of their event is a telling sign of the caliber of sprint coaches in our country.

Speed as taught at the level 1&2 class is nothing but force application, many factors come into play on ones ability to apply forces and hence move forward.

One very critical factor is the application of greater forces which can only be achieved by muscle hypertrophy so if our athletes have never been to a weight room or their coaches have no idea how to do it then ours is a losing battle.

I had the privilege of sitting for my level 1 and 2 certifications in the USA and I can attest to the fact that the curriculum offered is similar to that conducted locally by the IAAF, so evidently neither the gods nor the athletes are to blame.

We can choose to sit back and sing the same ‘serikali itufanyie’ song or grab the bull by its horns and make the best with what we have locally. Jamaicans have done it with no facilities to write home about.

In fact prior to Usain Bolts legendary showing, his training was conducted at the University of West Indies in Jamaica-READ- on a grass track!! it’s only after his exploits that a synthetic track was laid, if he and his coaches would have waited for the facilities and equipment to come in order to embark on their dreams then chances are that we wouldn’t have known Usain.

Closer home,the Rift Valley has produced the largest number of Olympians, World champions etc without the so called facilities underlining the fact that ours is not an equipments/facilities problem first, but a coaching and psychological hurdle that we need to get over.

So what to do then;

- Appoint knowledgeable and passionate people to sit for coaching courses since sprint coaching requires lots of creative thinking to back up the scientific part. I say creative so that the individual can improvise whatever is learnt and ‘Kenyanize’ it.

- Provide mobile gyms like that recently unveiled for the Kenya sevens rugby team and strategically locate them in every province initially then districts to constituencies. The beauty of this concept is that you save on space, rent, and other things that come with permanent structures. The cost is way low compared to sourcing land, building then equipping the gym; of course investments should also be made to get knowledgeable personnel to man them. 

-There’s also a misconception that weight training makes one bulky and unable to move-prescribed by a knowledgeable expert it has been known to improve performance leave alone in the sprints but also in the marathon and distance races!

- Move away from the defeatist attitude that the imposing well equipped indoor facilities in the west are the reasons why their sports programs are successful…weather patterns in our country allow us to train outdoors all year round, little wonder why every year European and American athletes migrate from these ‘fortresses’ for what they call warm weather training in other cities/Countries e.g. California, Australia, Brazil etc.

-Identify athletes that will do duty for the country early and make arrangements in terms of logistics in sourcing for nutritional advice, Conditioning and corrective tests etc all which are available locally.

- Peg coaching promotions and eligibility for courses to performance and improvements that one has made to his/her athletes or other sports in general.

Note that as we continued to whine an Egyptian came to town and convincingly won gold in the 200 meters at the just concluded African Athletics championships...…but isnt he of North African decent and they are supposedly not good in the sprints!

Over in Europe, Christophe Lemaitre became the first white man to run the 100 meters in under 10 seconds then went on to win the dash event at European athletics championships, in effect putting to rest the myth that only blacks can run fast.

Its time Kenya erased the myths that wrongly describe our athletic potential and capabilities, yes we can sprint!


By Geoffrey Kimani Speed and conditioning coach; Kenya 7s and 15s Rugby teams Kenya Harlequins rugby team