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Monday, July 14, 2008

Kenya vs. Ethiopia

Sport's great rivalries: Kenya vs. Ethiopia, and a one-sided battle (at least on the track)

As you've no doubt noticed by now, we're somewhat partial to the endurance sports here at The Science of Sport. And with the Olympics now only 24 days away, we're starting to turn our attention to what are sure to be 3 weeks of magnificent racing action, especially on the track and roads in the long-distance events.

The Olympic Games tend to cast a spotlight on great rivalries, and I'm sure that if pushed, your best memories and highlights of the Sydney 2000 and Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games will include those two magnificent clashes over 10,000m between Haile Gebrselassie and Paul Tergat. In Atlanta, Tergat attacked with 2km to go, throwing in a 60-second lap and a 2:32 km. In Sydney, he waited until 250m, but on both occasions, Gebrselassie was able to respond and win.

Kenya vs. Ethiopia: Battles on the track, road and country

Their clashes form part of one sport's great rivalries: the battle between Kenya and Ethiopia in the long-distance events. Earlier this year, after the World Cross Country Championships in Edinburgh, I had intended to do a post on the "decline" of Kenyan running, because those championships were one of the worst in recent times for Kenya. They lost every single title, failing to win a single individual race, while Ethiopia cleaned up in both the men and women's events. It was not the first time either, and Kenya's once insurmountable dominance has slowly been eroded and few would now argue that Ethiopia, not Kenya, hold sway at the Cross Country events.

But no sooner had I started thinking about a post to discuss the relative demise of Kenya (and the dominance of Ethiopia, of course), and Kenya came back with a huge two weeks of running in the marathon. They won in London, Amsterdam and Boston. On one weekend, six Kenyans broke 2:07! It was a startling reminder that the demise of Kenya had been predicted a little too soon...though admittedly this happened in the marathon, while their status on the track and country continues to slide.

Kenya's strength in depth is incredible, and they produce far more runners than Ethiopia do, which does help to explain why the marathons are still Kenyan-dominated. Cross country and track, as we shall see, tend to reward excellence in a few athletes, whereas the relative unrestricted boundaries of world marathon running favour the Kenyan system or approach to athletics.

But this post is more about the track, and it is true here that Kenyan athletics seems to move from crisis to crisis. It happens twice a year - after every major championships, track or country, Kenya embarks on a "soul-searching" exercise to find some explanation for the fact that yet again, they've seen Ethiopian athletes dominate. But what are the factors contributing to this? And for how long has it persisted without an answer? To understand this, let's have a look at the last 13 years of major track races.

The track: A distinct upper hand for Ethiopia

The table below shows the Kenyan and Ethiopian results from the last 10 major championship 10,000m races (since 1995). It lists the atheltes who represented the countries, and their finishing position in brackets. I've looked only at 10,000m because it's a profound illustration of what I believe is the key problem for Kenya, though I will admit that this approach lends itself to some bias (apologies also for the small size - if you click on the image, it will open in a new tab and should be much larger...!)


What the table shows is that in the gold medal race, World or Olympic, Ethiopia leads 9 to 1! In fact, if you go back to 1993, then it becomes 10 to 1, because Gebrselassie won the 10,000m title in Stuttgart as well. The sole Kenyan champion since 1995 is Charles Kamathi, who beat Mezgebu and Gebrselassie in Edomton in 2001. The table below shows the medal counts from these races:


A pretty clear dominance for Ethiopia. If one were to arbitralily assign points for the placings, with gold equalling three points, silver two and bronze one, then you can work out that Ethiopia scores 40 points, Kenya only 14! That's dominance by any definition.

That dominance is however down to basically two men: Haile Gebrselassie and Kenenisa Bekele, who have all nine Ethiopian titles between them. Geb owns 5, Bekele 4, though he should add a fifth in a month from now in Beijing.

So, in one respect, Kenya's problem is that they have failed, since 1995, to discover a runner capable of beating Gebrselassie or Bekele. That's hardly a disaster, because the two Ethiopians are surely two of the all-time greats.

The problem for Kenya: Absence of consistency, management and development

However, from a Kenyan perspective, one must ask the question "why not?" Why is it that a nation full of athletic potential has only managed to defeat their neighbours ONCE in eleven races over 10,000m (they also haven't won the World Cross Country title since 1999, remarkably enough!)

The answer to this question is enormously complex, and obviously not down to one single factor. However, I feel that one of the key problems is illustrated by the table above, showing the athletes who have represented the countries since 1995.

Cast your eye down the list of names, and the first thing you'll notice is that on the Ethiopia side, you recognize most of the names. On the Kenyan side, you'd be hard pressed to recall more than about five of the athletes who have pulled on the Kenyan vest. The table below shows the number of athletes who have represented the two countries, and most tellingly, the number of athletes who've only run for their country ONCE, never to be picked again:

The key differences between Kenya and Ethiopia, in my opinion, are the following:

  • Kenya has gone through more athletes than Ethiopia, clearly failing to settle on who they believe will be able to dethrone the Ethiopians. Remember that this is despite the fact Ethiopia have been able to select FOUR athletes for most championships, whereas Kenya can pick only THREE.
  • Kenya has also picked 11 athletes who have only run in ONE race, never to be picked again. There is a startling lack of continuity in that statistic.
Now, one might easily argue that the reason Kenya has picked so many different athletes is because they have picked men who have failed on the first occasion, and therefore they are constantly trying something new. Ethiopia, on the other hand, never need to change a winning formula.

But this is only part of the problem. Because the races are now so frequent (10 major races in 13 years), it's very easy to pick a young, upcoming athlete and allow them to run in 3 consecutive races in the space of about 4 years. That athlete, if given a chance, might have the potential to improve to the point where in his third race, he is competitive with the Ethiopians.

Unfortunately, Kenya has never tried this, and the high "churn" or recycling of their chosen athletes has undermined any efforts by young runners to develop. Consider briefly that Kenenisa Bekele was only 21 when he won his first 10,000m world title in 2003. Gebrselassie, in 1993, was only 20 when he took gold. So Ethiopia clearly discovers incredibly talented young athletes, who then go on to dominant for six or seven years. Kenya, having failed to win a title, seem to change their team every time, and so by the time a Kenyan is 25 years old, he's already been cast aside.

Now, the next problem is that in Kenya, there is little "centralization" of athletic training. I know this because my university is currently in the process of establishing a research collaboration with a university in Kenya, who deal with many of the top runners. Many hours of discussion and strategy have revealed that Kenya's primary problem is an abundance of talent. That's right, too MUCH talent. This is only a problem when the talent management systems are not appropriate, and in Kenya, there is such fragmentation that control of the talent pool is virtually impossible.

This creates a scenario where an abundant resource need not be nurtured and looked after as it would if it was scarce, and so a highly talented junior athlete in Kenya is, often times, at the mercy of the environment. That environment, in turn, is often out to "exploit" the athlete - agents and managers descend on Kenya like vultures, picking up the talented young athletes who are then taken off to run in Europe. All good and well, but no long term plan or vision. The result is that a Kenyan who enjoys a very successful season on track often "disappears" the following year, because they are not appropriately managed during the off-season or during the build-up to the following year. How many times have relatively unknown Kenyans emerged to take some big wins at the end of the European season, never to be seen again? Too often, for Kenyan administrators...

Ethiopia, on the other hand, while possessing an array of talent that would make most countries envious, have managed to centralize control of these athletes. That's been driven in large part by Gebrselassie, who by the force of his personality has developed a winning formula. But the Ethiopian federation, and their coach, Dr Woldemeskel Kostre, have also ensured that the squad of identified champions remains together and trains together.

The Kenyan federation and administration have tried to correct this, instituting training camps ahead of major championships and even before the recent Kenyan Olympic trials. However, their efforts are often roundly criticized, mostly because the camps deny athletes the chance to race in Europe. It would seem then, that control and money are the two conflicting driving forces behind Kenya's current problems on the track.

Beijing 2008: Kenya's Olympic team selection highlights the lack of vision

The reason this discussion is particularly contextual, incidentally, is because the Kenyan Olympic trials were held over a week ago, and they have now announced their team for Beijing. And it's the Men's 800m event that holds the greatest surprise, and yet another example of how the long-term vision of Kenyan athletics might be questioned.

David Rudisha is perhaps the second best 800m runner in the world. His times suggest this, and his racing performances too. Only Sudan's Kaki Kamis has been better this year. But the key is this: Rudisha is still a teenager, only 19 years old. Therefore, he is a potential multiple Olympian, possibly multiple gold medalist.

Unfortunately for him, he is Kenyan and he had an injury and a virus when the Kenyan Olympic trials were held. He therefore did not run the 800m event. That is OK, not a disaster, because the Kenyan system is designed to automatically select the first TWO finishers, with the third slot going to a "wildcard", at the selectors' discretion.

But, miraculously, instead of selecting a teenager who is CURRENTLY the second best in the world, one of it's most exciting talents ever, a potential future champion (if not in 2008, then in 2012 and 2016), the Kenyans went instead with the man who finished third in the Kenyan trials. That person was Alfred Kirwa Yego, who is the world champion, so a difficult decision to make. But world champions have been omitted before, and Kirwa Yego was both a surprise champion and has not repeated that form this year.

No matter how you skin it, no matter what criteria you use (development or performance) that third slot should have gone to a teenager who is a potential winner NOW. Yet instead, the Beijing Olympics have to go without Rudisha. It will be interesting to see where Rudisha is in 2010, and beyond. If he fits the classic tale, he'll be running average times of 1:44. The next question one has to ask: "If David Rudisha was Ethiopian, would they have picked him?" The answer to that question pretty much sums up this post.

Ross

23 Comments:

Anonymous said...

It was a good post! Usually when speaking about kenya there are many rumours that are not even close to truth. This post was correct. Still, let me clarify some aspects that I may know.
1.Preparation for this year World Cross was weak for Kenyans due to post election violence there. 2.Ethiopia has been dominating 10k, or should I say Bekele and Gebrselassie. So if you take all events,statistics changes. LAst year world champs in osaka, kenyans had the best success EVER when you look at all distance events. 3.In Kenya there is trend that almost everyone wants to train only for roadraces because there is better money.Thats why i b
elieve they dominate in roadraces and track looses runners that can beat Bekele. 4.Also changing citizenship makes Kenya to loose some great runners (I still consider them Kenyans).

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi there

Thanks for the input, it's really helpful.

I agree that the problem is far more complex than the admittedly simple model I've put forward. I did, in my defence, confess to the "bias" of using only 10,000m results and that there is more to it than I'd discussed!

The political situation is also a major factor from the last season, granted.

As for the money, you're absolutely right. It's interesting that the Ethiopians have managed to prevent their athletes from running for the money - is that a function of their relatively smaller size and thus greater control over athletes? Or the authorities exerting greater influence? I wonder whether we will soon see the same happen in Ethiopia!

Finally, the citizenship thing is a major problem. I guess it's impossible for Kenya to stop altogether, but if Kenya were to take some steps to help those athletes financially, support them somehow, would they be able to at least limit the exodus? Competing with the middle East's oil money is a problem, of course, and a difficult situation they find themselves in.

Thanks again for the feedback!
Ross

Sad, isn't it? said...

It is always difficult too understand the situation in Kenyan Athletics. I noticed the old whipping boys "greedy agents" that the Kenyan athletic administrators wheel out every so often, largely to divert attention from their own incompetence and corruption.

Calling a national camp at the last minute without planing, consultation.... leaving out their best (actually only) hope for 800m gold, hopeless coaching during the camps, it goes on and on.

Runners leaving camp for major championship is considerably worse shape that when they entered is commonplace. Intraspection by AK is less common.

ozziedvda said...

Where a lot of this article makes sense, I think your conclusion that Ethiopa dominates Kenya is wrong and your use of the 10,000m race paints an inaccurate picture.

For one, Ethiopia's primary focus on the track is on the 10k. There is no greater honor than to win that race. If you ask a Kenyan what race they would most like to win, my guess is that most (not all) would answer steeple chase, which is why Kenya dominates that event. Moreover, Kenya spreads its athletes over a variety of events, fielding competitive athletes in every event of 800m and up. Ethiopia is great at the 10k and good at the 5k. After that, they are not very good. In the 2007 World Championships in Osaka, Kenya outperformed Ethiopia in every event besides the 10k from 800m through the marathon, both genders. The only possible exception is in the women's 5k where an ethiopian athlete won and Kenya finished 2nd, 3rd, and 4th. Here is a summary of all of those events, listing all top 3 finishes from both nations, as well as the top finisher from either nation if none were in the top 3. I also listed defected Kenyan, now American Bernard Lagat who won both the 1500 and 5k as well as all results for both nations in the marathon.

m800-ken-1, eth-none
w800-ken-1, eth-none
w1500-ken-6th, eth-none
m1500-lagat,ken-3,4, eth-none
m5k-lagat, ken-2 eth-5th
w5k-eth-1, ken-2,3,4
m3k steeple-ken-1-3, eth-10,12
w3k steeple-ken-3,4 eth-none
wthon ken-1,7,8, eth 22
mthon-ken-1,8,52,dnf, eth-14,31,38,dnf

What is surprising to me is that Ethiopia dominates Kenya at World Cross. Kenya does put value on world cross, so it surprises me that they cannot get their massive amounts of talent together to perform well at this race, but that has been the recent history. Maybe the previous posters are on to something when they talk about athletes looking at more lucrative opportunities on the roads, but I think another heavy contributor is the grueling process of making the Kenyan WXC team. The distance camp that precedes the Kenyan trials, followed by the race that qualifies them for the team must leave some of those athletes decimated before the real race even begins. This only supports your point about Athletics Kenya not knowing what to do with their overstock of talent.

You also reference that athletes from Kenya tend to disappear at about age 25. My only issue with this is that Kenyan birth certificates are unreliable, so an athlete listed as 25, may actually be closer to 30. Granted, 30 year athletes can continue to be competetive on the world scene (Lagat), that is around the time when an athlete might begin to decline, which could explain some of the disappearances.

Despite your misleading statistics, I agree with the basic premise of your entry in that the Kenyan organization is not very good. Their talent is not always properly nurtured or coached, which is why you do see athletes fizzle prematurely. The fact is that the Kenyans are so good and so deep, that this does not hurt them too much on the world stage, except in the 10k, where a similarly talented nation puts most of its focus.

therealmince said...

Bekele won the 10000m in 2004 not Gebre (great athlete he is no question - so no need to give him any more titles).

Also I disagree with your comment that any way you slice it they should select Rudisha. Alfred is the world champion. World Champion. That says he is good enough to compete at the major champs and perform at the highest level. As we repeatedly see in the middle distance events (800, 1500, even the 5k), fast times coming in to the champs mean very little. Championship performance is something different. Alfred has already proved he has that, AND he finished third in the trials. Therefore he actually has a very stong argument for being selected.

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi Ozzie

Thanks for the mail. I must point out, in my very early defence, that I myself acknowledged the "bias" (my words from the post) in looking at the 10,000m event only. So everything you say is right, but I think the point of the post, which you did mention, is the lack of talent investment in Kenya.

Their success across a range of events is solely due to the depth and strength of talent they start out with, rather than the subsequent nurturing of that talent. The 10,000m event illustrates that better than any other, hence my selection of the "biased" data. I think also that the other factor that has allowed Kenya to dominate those other events is the absence of competition from Ethiopia, who have, as you correctly point out, invested more heavily in the track long distance events. I suspect that within the next 3 to 4 years, Ethiopia will start to produce far more great marathon runners and 1500m runners.

I think we do agree on this one: Kenya "spreads" its talent more widely, which itself might be a symptom of the reduced control. I don't think it's so much that Kenya spreads the talent as that they talent spreads out - it's arguable whether this is accident or design...

Finally, it will be interesting to see how the Beijing Olympics goes. At this stage, I'd predict two out of three medals at 10k to Ethiopia, with possibly none for Kenya. In the men's 5k, if Bekele runs, then two out of three is a real possibility as well. On the women's side, Ethiopia could sweep the 10km, and win two out of three in the 5km, depending on whether their athletes double or not. So there's a real chance that they'll claim 4 out of 6 medals, and Kenya not a single one (Lagat notwithstanding). It will be interesting to see how it pans out...

Thanks for the comments - very insightful!

Ross

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi Therealmince

Thanks for the input!

For a moment you had me worried that I'd made a big mistake there, but I've read the post twice more and I don't see anywhere where I said that Geb won the title in 2004? Where is that from? The table says Bekele won, and I didn't say Geb anywhere? Am I missing something here? If so, apologies...

As for Rudisha, it is a difficult decision, as I did say in the post. However, I really do believe that Rudisha was the only choice given his age, and his current ability. I'd warrant a prediction that Kirwa won't make the final of the Olympic 800m event. It would have been a brave decision to pick a young guy ahead of him, but again, that's what is needed if they are going to win gold medals on the track.

At the moment, Kenya is looking at winning a single gold at the Olympics on track - 3000m Steeplechase. They won't win the 800m (Sudan will), the 1500m is wide open, so who knows? The 5000m and 10000m will go to Ethiopia. So tough times, needs a big call. And Kirwa Yego is not the big call.

Ross

Ray said...

I thought another problem with the Kenyan training camps (unless "anonymous" steps forward and says it's untrue), is that they take the athletes away from their coaches, and put them with "national" coaches who don't know much about the athletes, or for that matter, their competition.

therealmince said...

Hi Ross

Not sure how to post a comment as a direct repsonse to another comment...

Anyway, the Athens error was on an email I received from your site. Here is the extracted text

"The Olympic Games tend to cast a spotlight on great rivalries, and I'm sure that if pushed, your best memories and highlights of the Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004 Olympic Games will include those two magnificent clashes over 10,000m between Haile Gebrselassie and Paul Tergat. In Sydney, Tergat attacked with 2km to go, throwing in a 60-second lap and a 2:32 km. In Athens, he waited until 250m, but on both occasions, Gebrselassie was able to respond and win."

I thought it might have been a typo, i.e. Athens instead of Atlanta, but the year specified was 2004 not 1996. So it was a specific reference to the Athens Olpympics.

Anyway enough about that.

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

HI Realmince

I'm embarrassed - you're quite right! I made the mistake and missed it, twice, even when reading it specifically to find it!

The error was in the years, I've changed it now so it's correct!

Thanks a lot!
Ross

Anonymous said...

well you may have point by saying ethiopia win 4 out of six,but i must give you my 3 points about kenya and ethiopia.1.point.ethiopia has only 5 runners think about this ethiopia has 1.kenenisa 2.gebres 3.dibaba 4.defar.5 sileshi end of sentence.am talking about world class runners, kenya has pool of runners.for ethiopia to win medals the all five runners must perticipate but i must say ethiopia is one of the luckiest country they never suffer injuries.if kenenisa,dibaba or defar failed to run ethiopia will probably not win any gold.2. point.ethiopia are only good in in one event,10000m both mens and womens. in 5000m both ethiopians and kenyans are good equally ethiopia women has won 4 times while kenya mens has won it 7 times.so thats why ethiopians dont dominate middle cos they are only good in 10000k.

Anonymous said...

you took one event and used that to show the diminishing of kenya in the sport. the glorious perfomance of kenya in beijing should make you rethink your positioning. i agree that kenya has not done well in 10000, 5000 and wxc. but if you look at the statistics in general, kenya dominates over ethiopia. kenyans see value in marathons and road races rather than in track and field. that explains the reason why kenya wins almost all the major marathons and road in the world. kenya is always going to be at the top of the world. the ration of kenyan runners to ethiopian is large. if you look at this years world cross country, the qatar team comprises of runners from kenya. the team was 3rd overall, kenya can sent upto 5 teams to world cross and they will secure the top six positions. that is talent to me. if you are waiting for kenya to diminish in the world of athletics, then you will be disappointed. kenyans see the sport as a job, the more races they run the more money they make. they are not going to sit back and wait for world cross or olympics. we are still going to make money at the top level and represent our country at the top level. we do have up and coming juniors who are going to give ethiopia a run for their money in 10000 and 5000m. watch out for the 2 boys who ran 1and 2 in this years world junior championship. for the good of the sport, kenya should not be winning everything. if we are going to win 800-marathons, the sport will not be fun. watch wilson kipketer interview on youtube.

Anonymous said...

we seem to be obsessed with how kenya perfoms. kenya is alright. people in here talking about kenyan coaches do not know nothing. come on. kenya is a small country. in the last olympics we won 14 medals , ethiopia won 7. we beat britain, france, germany, australia. we had 5 gold and US had 7. what else do you want us to do?. win every event including shoot put?. we need to be asking about europe, america and other countries who have the resouces and talent. why is kenya winning a big percentage of races! . kenya and ethiopia have been rivals since the 60s, it is not going to stop now. kenya is getting ready to unleash a new talent in those two events. ethiopia better watch out. i hate to see kenya winning every event from 800m-marathon. we need competition coming out of every where.

Anonymous said...

well well.beijing olympics went the why i was especting.kenya was in top of africa continent with 5 golds 5 silver and 4 bronce.ethiopia was second far with 4 golds 1 silver and 2 bronce.the ethiopia performance was created by only 2 athletes kenenisa and dibaba.witch means for the morment ethiopia has only 2 runners without kenenisa and dibaba ethiopia is dead .after all what have been hapening in kenya during elections,kenya went to win 14 medals.kenya has to produse only two people who can beat bekele and dibaba because those are the only athletes ethiopia has.

Anonymous said...

well the first kenya medal to get in athletics was from middle distances so kenya has pedigree in the middle.

Anonymous said...

kenya dont dominate middle because of the absence of ethiopians,but because they are good in the middle.but since you talk like that i would like to give you my 5 points about kenya and ethiopia.1.point Ethiopians dont dominate kenya thier something els far away around think about this ethiopia has only 5 runners.Ethiopia has 1.heile 2 kenenisa 3.tirunesh 4.defar and 5.shaine period end of sentence.am talking about world class runners kenya has gazzellions.for ethiopia to win medals,the all five runners must participate but i must say ethiopia is one of the luckiest country they realy never suffer injuries. if kennisa defar or dibaba failed to run ethiopia would probably not win gold.

Anonymous said...

2.point Etthiopians are only good in one event four out of those five runners are all running 10000m.and whan you think about it kenya dont dominate 10k.3 point tell me how many kenya runners are running for other countries because i lost a count.kenya can send 100 groups of runners inthe marathon and they can win kenya can send 3 groups in steeplachase and they can win.and that is what called talent.4 pont best kenya runners are all running marathons and road races thats why they dont have any runner on the track who can beat bekele.5 point what have been giving Ethiopian womens opportunity to be that strong is the absence of kenya womens think about that kenya womens were not running in the past years but now they are coming up.when you watch ethiopian womens performance in helsinki world champions and compere it to osaka and beijing thier was abig different.so we do agree one thing that ethiopians are good and kenyans are best period.

Anonymous said...

and one more thing. excuse me i never knew that such athletes like(micah kogo,paul tergat,richard chelimo,michael musyoki,naftali temu,charles kamathi,sally barsosio,paul kipkoech,moses tanui,moses mosop and martin mathathi irungu who have won medals in 10000m are ethiopians either.

weldon kirui said...

To say that Ethiopians always win 10,000 m is to take the debate out of context.In the just concluded Berlin World Championship, Linet Maasai hit the great ethiopian squad led by Defar and Melkamu.In the 5000 m women, Vivian Cheruiyot and Silvia Kibet once again showed the Ethiopian women dust.It is true that without Bekele and Bibaba Ethiopian athletics is thrown to the thrash.In the next few year, a Kenyan will emerge and hit Bekele never to be heard again. Linet Maasai is now in the scene and Dibaba will soon be heading for retirement in Arsi province.

Weldon arap Kirui

Anonymous said...

well it was fery nice to see how berlin world championships endend.10000m Linet masai,5000m vivian cheruiyot marathon Abel kirui.KENYA 4 golds 5 silver 2 bronce.yes kenenisa did won 5000m and 10000m.it showed without bekele and dibaba you guys are nothing but loosers.ethiopia with the team whitch won golds in amman jordan but they stand no chance againest kenya runners.

Anonymous said...

Ethiopians are the poeners of athletics, and are always the winners in every competition. And right now many young athletes are streaming maratons and track events...i dont see Kenyans do that. Ethiopians have athletics in their blood and that how it is...

Anonymous said...

well i know ethiopia has some great runners e.g. kenenisa bekele,tirunesh dibaba,defar and gebresselassie.But for them to win gold all of three runners must participate.just like what hapen in berlin.while kenya alwys have new runners in every new year i cant see ethopia doing that.also kenya juniors always rule like they did in bressanone italy, icant see ethiopia doing that.kenya has world junior records icant see ethiopia doing that.thire alot of runners running for other countries most of them from kenya not ethiopia.

ozziedvda said...

Where a lot of this article makes sense, I think your conclusion that Ethiopa dominates Kenya is wrong and your use of the 10,000m race paints an inaccurate picture.

For one, Ethiopia's primary focus on the track is on the 10k. There is no greater honor than to win that race. If you ask a Kenyan what race they would most like to win, my guess is that most (not all) would answer steeple chase, which is why Kenya dominates that event. Moreover, Kenya spreads its athletes over a variety of events, fielding competitive athletes in every event of 800m and up. Ethiopia is great at the 10k and good at the 5k. After that, they are not very good. In the 2007 World Championships in Osaka, Kenya outperformed Ethiopia in every event besides the 10k from 800m through the marathon, both genders. The only possible exception is in the women's 5k where an ethiopian athlete won and Kenya finished 2nd, 3rd, and 4th. Here is a summary of all of those events, listing all top 3 finishes from both nations, as well as the top finisher from either nation if none were in the top 3. I also listed defected Kenyan, now American Bernard Lagat who won both the 1500 and 5k as well as all results for both nations in the marathon.

m800-ken-1, eth-none
w800-ken-1, eth-none
w1500-ken-6th, eth-none
m1500-lagat,ken-3,4, eth-none
m5k-lagat, ken-2 eth-5th
w5k-eth-1, ken-2,3,4
m3k steeple-ken-1-3, eth-10,12
w3k steeple-ken-3,4 eth-none
wthon ken-1,7,8, eth 22
mthon-ken-1,8,52,dnf, eth-14,31,38,dnf

What is surprising to me is that Ethiopia dominates Kenya at World Cross. Kenya does put value on world cross, so it surprises me that they cannot get their massive amounts of talent together to perform well at this race, but that has been the recent history. Maybe the previous posters are on to something when they talk about athletes looking at more lucrative opportunities on the roads, but I think another heavy contributor is the grueling process of making the Kenyan WXC team. The distance camp that precedes the Kenyan trials, followed by the race that qualifies them for the team must leave some of those athletes decimated before the real race even begins. This only supports your point about Athletics Kenya not knowing what to do with their overstock of talent.

You also reference that athletes from Kenya tend to disappear at about age 25. My only issue with this is that Kenyan birth certificates are unreliable, so an athlete listed as 25, may actually be closer to 30. Granted, 30 year athletes can continue to be competetive on the world scene (Lagat), that is around the time when an athlete might begin to decline, which could explain some of the disappearances.

Despite your misleading statistics, I agree with the basic premise of your entry in that the Kenyan organization is not very good. Their talent is not always properly nurtured or coached, which is why you do see athletes fizzle prematurely. The fact is that the Kenyans are so good and so deep, that this does not hurt them too much on the world stage, except in the 10k, where a similarly talented nation puts most of its focus.