Kenya: Sports Power House to miss Beijing Olympics

For the first time in the recent history of Olympic Games in Kenya, there will be no representative in next month’s 24th edition of Olympic Games in Beijing from St. Patricks high school Iten – the seedbed of International and elite runners in  Kenya.

For the first time in the recent history of Olympic Games in Kenya, there will be no representative from St. Patricks high school Iten – the seedbed of elite runners in the country.

This disturbing turn of events has left the Iten fraternity asking themselves “What has happened to us and what went wrong?”. Former students from St Patricks have in the past represented Kenya in virtually all editions of the Olympic games. This time round no single runner qualified to represent the country during the Olympic trials held at the Nyayo stadium last month. It dawned on the long time Iten athletic coach Bro Colm O’Connel that the Saints Olympic tradition had indeed slumped after the trials.

St. Patrick’s  – a powerhouse to world class stars have rocked the world athletic scene, earning a clean bill of reputation in past Olympic games. So keen has been their enthusiasm to shatter every record in sight that made the world wonder what makes them tick. This year must be the saddest day for Bro. Colm who has nurtured the Iten athletics tradition for almost two and half decades.

But this long held tradition was recently shattered when the world 800m junior champion Edwin Letting, 3000m steeplechase favourite Michael Kipyego and 5000m sensational Isaac Kiprono Songok emerged among the St. Patrick’s old boys who saw their  Olympic dreams go up in smoke during the Olympic trials.

And as if to capitalize on their neighbours predicament, Singore girls which is 5km away from St. Patrick’s, lived to their billing to secure four slots in the team to board the flight to the Chinese capital next month. They are world 800m champion Janeth Jepkosgei best known as “Eldoret Express” in the athletics circles and the 1500m reigning champion Viola Kibiwott. Others are World 5000m silver medalist Vivian Cheruiyot and Sylvia Jebiwott Kibet (10,000m)

Saints managed to cut a niche for itself in Athens olympic games in 2004 when 800m world champion and Kenyan borne Dane Wilson Kipketer, Isaac Songok and former Athletics Kenya head coach Mike Kosgei participated in the event. Others in the contingent were AK national treasurer Ibrahim Hussein, coach Joseph Tengelei, former sports commissioner Mike Boit and former assistant sports commissioner Ernest Keitany, all of whom studied in the school.

The school’s games teacher Samwel Keitany, pays a glowing tribute to former principal and coach Brother O’Connel for his outstanding contribution to the athletic achievement. “Our school has been synonymous with success in athletics. We are used to seeing a saint always in local and international championships and of course in the Olympics. What happened this time…God knows”, he says adding that the talents of the athlete’s talents were blended by Bro O’Colm’s expertise in athletics. He is quick to add that no other school can boast of such an achievement of basking in the international glory for a long time like the Saints.

Wilson Kipketer of Denmark (800m), Wilson Boit Kipketer (3000m steeplechase), Japhet Kimutai of USA (800m), William Chirchir (1500m) and Isaac Magut (400m) flew the Saint’s flag during the Sydney 2000 Olympic games. The school was also at it during the 1996 Atlanta Olympic games when David Kiptoo won a bronze medal in 400m. More achievements were registered when Japhet Kimutai broke the 800m record in the 1998 Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The record was held by Wilson Kipketer of Denmark, also a former St. Patricks student .

Mr Keitany hopes that the Kenyan team to Beijing would reclaim some of the lost titles as the new crop of athletes maintain their spirit. “Kenyan runners will perform better given the cut-throat national trials. Success in athletics calls for high level of discipline and intensive training”, he says

St. Patrick’s appeared a run away favourite in 1992 Barcelona Olympic championship when steeplechaser Mathew Birir won a gold medal. Later that year, Saints confirmed their supremacy when Benson Koech emerged the 1500m junior champion in Seoul, Korea.

During the Seoul 1988 Olympic Games, US- based Peter Rono led the Saints pack in the national team to claim a gold medal in the 1500m. Others in the team were the then three times Boston Marathon winner Ibrahim Hussein (now AK national treasurer), trio 400m sprints Tito Sawe, Jos Maritim and Joseph Saina  as well as 5000m legend Charles Cheruiyot.

In the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, Saints were there too with Charles Cheruiyot and Kwambai Cheruiyot winning gold medals in 5000m and 1500m respectively.

A casual work around this legendary school, one will not fail to notice the weel-adorned compound with commemorative trees which bear the names of Kenyan veteran runners who studied in this institution. A glance at the picture gallery inside the dining hall, shows all the athletic records set by former Saints runners. You can indeed mistake the gallery for a museum but it only depicts a clear testimony of the athletic prowess the institution boasts of.

In addition, a set of  athletics record boards featuring former school’s runners hang on the walls in the dining hall. One of the boards shows  Mike Murei (400m), Cosmas Murei (800m) and Mike Boit (800m-former sports commissioner) set the ball rolling in the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, Germany.

Despite failing to secure a place in the list of 37 runners to the Olympic Games which kick off on August 8, in Beijing, the national Olympic team has always comprised a saint in the previous games.

By Ken Chelimo

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