Matthew Koech, photo by Justin Lagat
Irene Chelegat, photo by Justin Lagat
Road running is coming of age in Kenya. Just like there are good athletes and good races, there are also some groups who go into road race sponsorship for less than positive reasons. In this article, Justin Lagat writes about a race that did not live up to its promises….
WHEN A RACE IS NOT IN THE INTEREST OF RUNNERS,
by Justin Lagat
Congratulations to Mathew Koech and Irene Chelagat who just became winners of a 10km road race that happened today in Eldoret town. Mathew, who trains around Kaptagat in Eldoret, won the men’s race in 27:42, while Dickson Mutai was second in 27:51, followed by Peter Limo in 28:00. Irene Chelagat, who also trains in Kaptagat, but with the Global Sports Group, won the women’s race in 34:16, followed by Gladys Chesire and Edna Kimayo in 34:44 and 35:12 respectively. On Sunday, we got a word that there was going to be a 10km road race in Eldoret town this Thursday.
When a race is announced around Eldoret, it is always great news to athletes because they see it as a rare opportunity to test their strength against other athletes training in various other camps, and an opportunity to perfect race strategies and get more experiences on how best to run in future competitions. We were definitely not going to be left out of this race despite the short notice we got, and so we immediately adjusted our training program in readiness for it. Instead of a hill workout we would have done on Monday, we went for a lighter training on a slope followed by a moderate 1hr 20 minutes run on Tuesday.
With one day to the race, we just got curious to know the winning prize money. Our coach made a phone call to one of the organizers of the race. We were shocked to learn that, apart from the registration money being higher than it has always been for other races around, the winner was to walk away with only Ksh. 5000 (about $57)!
We had to ask again about the sponsors of the race and we became even more puzzled when we learned that a number of big companies, not only Kenyan companies, but trans-African ones like Pannar Seed Company based in South Africa, and a number of commercial Banks around the region were participating as sponsors of the event.
We sensed that all was not right with the organization. It was not so much about the meager prize money that made us to pull out of this race, but the perceived image these organizers had of athletes willing to compromise their training schedules and turn up in numbers to compete in a race like that. I and my group decided that we were not going to participate in this race and resumed our normal training. But, curious to find out the nature of the organization of this race, and to find out for myself whether what we heard over the phone was not a prank, I set out to the venue after my morning run.
I got there right on time and so many tents had been erected all over Chepkoilel Stadium and beyond. Not even during the Nairobi Marathon, which is definitely the biggest road running event in Kenya, had I seen so many tents. There were security officers with metal detectors manning the entrances to the stadium. It was only after they advised me not to enter into the stadium if I was interested in the race did it began to dawn on me that the race could have been a side show for another main event that was to take place in the stadium: The Chepkoilel Agribusiness Trade Fair.
Many questions crossed my mind as to how all these could be related with the race. I hoped that I was going to get answers as the day progressed. Most of the people seemed to have been caught unawares as athletes who had began their road race some 10km from the University entered through the main gate and everyone was being asked to give way. Mathew Koech led in a comfortable gap while the rest followed in a single file, as though contented with their positions. The first lady to arrive was Irene Chelagat and it almost took a while before the second lady arrived.
Very few athletes in
the first positions were able to get some water at the finish line while the rest were unlucky to be dismissed, sweaty and thirsty. The top six athletes were taken aside and promised that their prize money was going to be handed out to them the following day. The finishing line of this race was outside the entrance to the stadium and most of the people who had turned up for the trade fair failed to notice that there was a race.
There were no press people to interview the athletes. I talked with the two winners and it was quite a relief to hear that Mathew was happy for a great comeback after it had been a while since he last won some races. Irene told me it was her first road race ever and she liked the experience.
Questions still arise as to whether the sponsors have any idea how much the athletes are being paid in prize money – if they will be paid, whether Athletics Kenya (AK) have set the minimum amount of prize money to be paid in local races and whether the organizers of some races do have the interest of athletes in consideration as they organize these races, or are just doing it for their own selfish interests?