Justin Lagat believes that we can learn something about the World Cup that could be valuable for our sport of athletics…
David Rudisha, Duane Solomon, photo by PhotoRun.net
Drawing something from the World Cup
The entire hullabaloo about soccer across the world has gotten me interested in drawing some conclusions out of it, noting what perhaps needs to be applied to running for it to be as popular, and why running need not be regarded a specialty of some few countries. Actually, athletes anywhere in the world can do well in running given the right training conditions. Some who are beginning to discover this and are doing very well in long distance running, despite not coming from East Africa, include Galen Rupp, Ryan Hall, Desiree Davilla and Shalane Flanagan among many others.
Athletes do well at a particular sport because of their perspective on it, the conditions of life in their communities, who their role models are and what their daily activities are. While the World Cup began in 1930, it was not until 1954 that Brazil began to be a contender in this sport. Legendary footballers like Pele (Edson Arantes do Nascimento) then became the first role models for younger Brazilians that went on to shine in the years that followed and kept passing the glowing mantle up to the present generation. That is why Brazil, like other countries who took an early interest in soccer, continues to shine at the World Cup. Similarly, East African stars like Paul Tergat and Haile Gebrselassie are part of the reason why Kenyans and Ethiopians are currently doing well in long distance running.
We were discussing the same topic one time with Gabriele Nicola, manager on the ground and coach at Gianni De Madonna’s training camps in Kenya and he told me why Italy does better in football than they do in running.
“In Turin, my home town, the way of life there is so different and it is not easy to find athletes interested in running. Football takes centre interest in most parts of Europe and from childhood, kids harbor dreams of becoming footballers in the future. Children here in East Africa dream of becoming runners in the future. If state of the art football pitches where build around here, we would also be having great footballers in East Africa”, he had explained.
Talking of training facilities, it works in two ways. Many young Kenyans, for example, who used to play soccer in school will have no otherwise but to change to running after school due to lack of the necessary facilities they used to get while in school. Middle and long distance running, unlike sprints, does not need modern training facilities like gymnasiums and carpeted tracks. Athletes in east Africa hardly find these facilities.
So, it becomes an interesting fact that the lack of facilities and the availability of them, both work to the advantage of running, in long distance and sprints respectively.
Another interesting fact is that while football was invented sometime in the 19th century, running has been there since time immemorial. It is as old as the human race, and historians estimate that to be around 130,050 years ago. Running is and has been part of life.
Like it is happening with soccer, where old generations inspire and motivate the younger generations and success in the sport continue to revolve around such countries as England, Germany, Brazil, France and Argentina, among others; the present day runners also hold the future of running in their countries and communities. There is probably a young kid somewhere in London who is getting inspired by Mo Farah’s feat. Another one in the US could also be admiring Galen Rupp.
US track legend, Carl Lewis once said that more than a hundred children able to run faster than him are born daily, but are not getting the opportunities to discover their talents. The natural attitude one has towards running and the opp
ortunities available around them are necessary for one to become a great athlete.