Athletics has never been a cool sport in Kenya. Weird right? Given we excel at it. Growing up, athletics was not a glamorous sport in this country. It hadn’t been given that ‘cool sport’ status. It still hasn’t been given that status in my opinion. Hundreds don’t flock the stadium to watch athletes run, not the way they fill up stadiums for rugby and football games. Our athletes don’t appear in magazine covers, they are not invited for Tv interviews and shows.
It’s only recently that I have seen some appear in adverts. Other are jealous of our athletes, yet the only time athletics is a big deal in Kenya is when we have international races. Then we see them on the news. They are received at the airport by the president or deputy president. In fact the only time most Kenyans know of some of these athletes is during those international races. When they ‘show people dust’ by breaking world records. I bet you most Kenyans only know two or three athletes. They aren’t cool enough, athletics isn’t cool enough. But this isn’t about those Kenyans, this is about me and why I thought athletics wasn’t cool. If had thought it was cool, who knows, maybe I could be headed for the Rio Olympics now.
The Kalenjin people, a tribe in Kenya, are famed for their athletic prowess. I’m Kalenjin and the joke, ‘can you run?’ is something I get all the time. It doesn’t bother me, although it’s very stereotypical. In Kenya, if you are Kalenjin, you have athletic abilities, if you are an athlete, you are Kalenjin. (Full disclosure, not everyone thinks this, but some do and it is usually said in jest)
Obviously there’s more to being an athlete than just being a Kalenjin. Don’t be fooled folks, those tales about how Kalenjins are good at athletics because they used to run for miles to get to school are not entirely true. Or are they? The Kalenjin people lived and live in areas known for their high altitudes, hilly terrains, and there is the fact that most of us are slim. I suppose we are meant to be athletes. Anyway, the fact that I am Kalenjin meant I automatically qualified to run. Also, I had the talent. I was good at it. Then I joined high school.
I went to a school that produced some of the best athletic talent in the world. Champions such as Vivian Cheruiyot and Hyvin Kiyeng schooled here. It is located in Iten town. You might know the town? (I ask hopefully). Athletes spend months training here. (It’s the altitude). I was in the same class with some of these ladies, we ate together and slept in the same dormitories. Every time I see them on TV breaking world records, I mention that.
But these ladies did not hang out with the kind of crowd I wanted to hang out with. The cool crowd. They didn’t go to music or drama festivals (things I considered cool). They woke up at the crack of dawn to go for a morning run. Not cool at all. They had an accent I thought wasn’t cool. They didn’t speak fluent English. (Side note, I don’t get why people laugh at Kalenjin athletes because they cannot articulate themselves properly. These guys are millionaires and make more money than most of us ever will. So who’s winning really?
Anyway, it’s safe to say, because I thought it was not cool, I did everything I could not to fully developed that talent. I honestly believe I could have been a successful athlete had I applied myself in high school. I might have been a household name and most importantly, I could have been on my way to Rio for the Olympics. But it just wasn’t cool enough. I don’t regret it. Who am I kidding? When they come home with the gold, I regret it a little.