Monday, August 02, 2021

We won't be knocked down

For a long time, Kenyans took for granted certain immutable facts. We were the world champions of middle-distance and long-distance road races. Regardless of whether the races were held in chilly European capitals, tech-filled US cities or sweltering Asian ones, a Kenyan 1-2-3 was taken as a given. The Ethiopians and Moroccans were our natural challengers, and every now and then would cause an upset, but it was global received wisdom that Kenyans were kings of the road. End of.

Tokyo 2020 is testing our faith in what is known about the known universe in painful ways. There are many explanations for our heart-rending change of circumstances, most of which are the tea-leaves'-reading technical jargon of the people who care passionately about such things. I have a different explanation, one that is informed by feelings" and not technical facts.

A few months ago, one of the senior-most government officials was photographed, clean-shaven. His physical appearance had undergone such a shocking change that we were, well, shocked. I can still remember the cruel statements that were made about him and, for a moment, I felt a twinge of pity for him. But after a horrific year, where lives and livelihoods had been destroyed, rend asunder, I could understand why his physical appearance had become so shocking. The same is true of our most cherished Olympic tradition: winning road races.

When Eliud Kipchoge ran that amazing not-race in Vienna in 2019, he reminded the whole wide world what Kenyans were capable of achieving through sheer determination. A few uncharitable windbags whispered unkindly that "it must have been the special shoes" but deep down in their black hearts, they knew that what they were seeing was the magic that made Kenyans special. Mr Kipchoge is a national - nay, global - treasure, as is every single Kenyan that competes in road races.

But not even Mr Kipchoge's running mates can have escaped the hellscape that 2020 became. Training regimens were destroyed by mental and physical manxieties. Our exceptional, mentally resilient athletes can't have escaped any of the things that made Kenyans' lives that much harder. They are humans; they are not robots. They see what we see. They feel what we feel When we suffer, they suffer with us. The malaise that has enervated us as a people, surely, it must have affected them, even if a little. The paucity of medals in Tokyo is but the proof of how they too, have suffered.

I am a Kenyan and I have a Kenyan's optimism about life. Our team may not shine as brightly as it shone in London in 2012 and Rio in 2016, but I know that it will not simply give up. Our team will fight for every medal. Our team will suffer many knocks, but it will never be knocked down. And when the next Olympiad rolls around, our team will shine so bright it will shame the sun. Just you wait.

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