From Juniors to Seniors: A Conversation on the World Athletics Championships

The
IAAF World Under-18 championships took place in Kasarani Stadium, Nairobi,
between the 12th and the 16th of July. Sanya
Noel and Carey Baraka followed the championships closely, and here, they talk
about the teenagers’ events and the IAAF World Championships taking place in
London starting today.

SANYA
NOEL
:
It’s over now, the boys and girls have packed up and gone back to their
countries, and our ears have stopped ringing from all the cheering. But we have
the memories, all of us, and the boys and girls their medals. But let’s talk
about it now, postscript: what went down, what favourites didn’t clinch it,
what underdogs ran away with it. Let’s dissect the Kasarani running.

CAREY
BARAKA
:
The moment for me, and I guess for you too, was in the
heats of the mixed 4×400 relays, when Mary Moraa held off a couple of boys to
cross the line first. I think Moraa had been the revelation of the
championship, and now the question becomes, do you think she can kick off from
here and actually become Kenya’s, and Africa’s Sprint queen?

S.N.: We could start from
the very beginning, but now that we are at that relay with the magic of Mary
Moraa, I have my hopes but I don’t think so. If I was her coach, I’d probably
suggest stepping up to 800m. She’s got the endurance for that. I need to say
that again, Mary Moraa’s endurance is massive. I went back to re-watch her
races and she always beat them with endurance. Her times are pretty good, but I
watched her in the 200m sprint and decided that she’d have a good career in
800m. Many 400m sprinters can do 800. I have hope there.

It
was diappointing to see that team lose a podium finish in the final, but it was
all about tactics. The Kenyan team showed their claws way too early, so the
Brazilians and Jamaicans went back to the drawing board and came up with a
better formula.

But
back to the beginning in that empty stadium when it poured. Rain is a good
idea. I always recommend it. So, when it rained, I had a feeling that it would
be a memorable championship. But one question I kept smiling about when the
commentators said of a “heat” was, is it still a heat when they run in the
rain?

C.B.: (laughs)

How
old is Moraa? 17? 18? I remember Pamela Jelimo breaking through in the 800m at
18, winning the diamond league (what was it called back then?), and then
sweeping away Maria Mutola. So, yeah, ostensibly if Moraa shifted up, she could
become our heir to the Jelimo/Janeth Jepkosgoi duopoly. Eunice Sum has tried
her best, winning at the worlds a couple of years ago and all, but her career
has kinda floundered in recent years. Which brings me to something that’s been
bugging me for awhile, youth athlete stars, especially in Kenya, why do they
rarely seem to make as success of their careers as expected? I’m already
drawing parallels between Jelimo and Moraa, but even Jelimo had withered away
from her position at the apex of the game by the time she was in her early
twenties.

S.N.:
But at what rate do we churn out the superstars? And do they concentrate on
these talents when they’re young enough? Some debut right at the big stage.
Think of Eliud Kipchoge debuting at the World Championship at eighteen and
kicking some major ass (Hicham El Guerr​ouj and Kenenisa Bekele), or of David
Rudisha coming to age in his twenties (he didn’t shine much as a junior and had
to change strategies).

I
would understand some of our athletes and how they fade out. To us fans, they
are just runners performing on the big stage, but we never get past the oval
track and learn what goes on: love lifes, family, training, parallel careers,
injuries, depression. I know of athletes who have faded out because of
depression due to love. So, yes and no. I would want Moraa to take over from
Sum, but without the pressure. Moraa should run whatever race she chooses, or she
can even quit track and field: she has done something already, she’s shown that
it can be done. That Kenya can get sprinters too.

Oh,
are you going to ignore my lovely rain completely?

C.B.: About the rain,
wasn’t the boys hammer qualifying round postponed because of the adverse
weather? There was a beautiful image trending on twitter on day 1, an aerial
shot of the boys 800m race. There, I haven’t ignored it completely!

source: spikes.iaaf.org

You’ve
mentioned Eliud Kipchoge breaking through, and of course you wrote that beautiful piece on his attempt
to break the 2-hour barrier. I remember Kipchoge beating the two (or at least
I’ve watched videos, seeing as I am barely old enough to remember watching it
live!), both world record holders at the time, and that is how you announce
yourself on the big stage! We’ve been talking about the 800 m, and do you
remember Mohammed Aman being stripped of his gold from the 2009 African junior
championships because he was underage? He ended up taking gold in the 800m at
the next two editions, but I just can’t get past the fact that according to the
competition rules he was considered to be cheating because he was underage!
Which brings me to something I wanted to talk about. Reading the comments on
social media, comments on the championships, I get the feeling that a lot of
people seem to think that the Kenyans were cheating! Age-wise, ie. What do you
think, is that possible? I know we’ve had trouble in the past, Longosiwa and
co. Also, with our football teams last year. But I don’t imagine that we lied
about our ages, do you?

S.N.: I’d hate to get into
speculation about our boys and girls. I hope we were above board on this.
(Jackson) Tuwei has a responsibility and I believe he’s doing everything to
make Kenyan running as clean as it can ever be. He’s a former soldier, and some
of Kenya’s best runners are in forces, so in the spirit of honour, I want to
believe that everything was above board.

And
now that we are here, talking about integrity, perhaps mention the Russian
Athletics Federation (RUSAF) and the IAAF? There were two wins at Kasarani, one
for silver in the boys’ 10,000m walk and the other in the girls’ 5000m walk.
These athletes were both Russian but were competing as neutral athletes. The
IAAF authorised nine of them, and seven have been cleared for the World
Championships in London.

I
was curious to see what anthem would have been played if these athletes had
clinched gold.

But
let’s move away from that and talk about Kenya’s first gold on home-soil.

C.B.: Ah, yes, the 1500m.
But before that, allow me to comment on the 3000m women’s race, which should
have been our first gold, but the Ethiopian just about edged out our girl,
Chepkirui, by seven microseconds. We won that in 2013, so I was very
disappointed that we didn’t get it this time.

But
back to that 1500m, and was I the only one worried that by day three we hadn’t
won any gold? Then up turns Manangoi, and we’re up and running and then Caren
Chebet wins the very next race for us and that’s me sighing with relief.

Manangoi’s
win was interesting for me, because of his finishing kick, and how he applied
it. That brings me to something else we’ve talked about in the past. Manangoi’s
a 1500 m runner and invariably comparisons between him and Asbel Kiprop follow.
Do you think that maybe here we’re having a situation where Manangoi is aping
Kiprop’s strategy, staying back, and then unleashing the kick at the end? And
what is the risk in this, aware as we are that Kiprop’s tactic doesn’t always
work?

A
small aside, Kiprop’s in action today, isn’t he?

S.N.: Manangoi’s was a
very impressive run. He wasn’t really falling back on purpose. It was quite
tactical, use the other boys and gauge them as you preserve that energy, but
keep up with them. Then unleash the kick in the last lap and win the damn
thing. I’ve always felt that Kiprop’s tactic is sort of showing off–I can
outkick you any day, with my eyes closed, and to prove it, let me fall right
back behind the pack and act as if I’m not even interested.

Dominic
Kipkemboi could have been an interesting addition if he had not DNSed (Did Not
Start). He was the strongest runner, both in the trials and in the heats, but
he got injured. The Daily Nation reported that he hit the inside rail while
celebrating his win in the heat, but I’ve watched that and not seen him hitting
it. Probably a pulled muscle or something. Quite unfortunate.

Aaah,
Arbesh Minsewo. Broke Chepkirui’s heart with that kick. It was a courageous
battle in the rain, that’s the stuff athletics fans go to watch. Races going
down to the wire like that, it gives you adrenaline for weeks.

C.B.: (laughs)

C’mon,
Kiprop’s is not pure arrogance, though I won’t deny that it seems entirely
plausible.

But
yes, such tight races are the stuff! Did you see the boys 800m? We didn’t win
it, came in third, but that battle between the two Ethiopians was just plain
exhilaration! Four micro seconds between them, and Kibiwott himself wasn’t too
far back either.

Reminds
me of another great 800m race.

S.N.: I will guess which
race that is: London 2012? That is the race of the century! I keep looking at
all those athletes, all of them recording personal bests,and nearly all of them
running faster than the pre-Rudisha World Record. Then all of them getting
injured immediately after or some time after that race. You can’t possibly run
like that and have longevity. Speed is a bad idea. I don’t recommend it.

But
let’s get back to the teenagers in Nairobi. I used to do decathlon back in high
school. That made me have immense respect for decathletes and heptathletes, and
here you probably already know who I’m talking about. The people’s favourite,
Maria Vicente!

C.B.: Ah, Vincente. She’s
popular, alright. Not a common quality in decathletes and heptathletes,
popularity, they​ rarely achieve the superstar status that other athletes get.
I was very surprised to find out that’s she’s​ 16. Born in 2001. That’s just
the other day!

S.N.: It was a teenagers’
championship, come on. What did you think? That they are in their thirties?
(laughs)

But
Vicente isn’t just popular, she is impressive. You don’t get heptathletes
dominating in most of the events like she did. She’s good in the sprints, and
won the jumps too. She recorded PBs in the long jump, a whooping 6.05m,
and by that time, the crowd had already loved her.

I
love how at the end of decathlon and heptathlon, you’ve fought it out and
developed this respect for each other. There is competition alright, but also
camaraderie. And Vicente scores a PB of 5612, ten ahead of
Germany’s Johanna Siebler, but the whole group joins them to do a lap of
honour, like it always should be.

And
then there is South Africa’s Sokwakhana Zazini. I’ve never seen
anyone do it like that in 400m hurdles; flying right out of the blocks and just
pushing it. Most people pace their running: hard on the curves and easy in the
straights. Zazini went all out and won it by well over ten metres. Crazy
running, but very determined. A Wayde van Niekerk here?

C.B.: A South African wins
one 400 m race and the inevitable comparisons to quite possibly the greatest
sprinter of all time start. And here, as we tie up our conversation, perhaps a
word about the Worlds that begin today?

Wayde
van Niekerk. The man. The bookmakers have him as a shorter-priced favourite
than any other male athlete at the World Championships. And no wonder! The
eternal question becomes him vs Rudisha vs Bolt in a 400 m orgasmic
winner-takes all. But more about that later.

The
second biggest draw at these games after Niekerk, or perhaps the biggest, given
that he is a Brit, Mo Farah, is in action in the 10000 m final. What do you
think? Can the Kenyans stop him?

S.N.: Ah, come on now.
That kid, Zazini, holds the world under-18 record for 400m hurdles. He came in
as the best hurdler and was chasing a record. He missed it but destroyed the
competition like they weren’t even running with him. It was destruction man.
Total destruction in 49.28 seconds.

I
am quite sad that Rudisha pulled out of London because of an injury. But before
then, he had quite impressed me, not because of his track and field prowess but
because of his considerations. Rudisha didn’t run in the Kenyan trials. As
defending champion, he had a direct entry already. Michael Saruni, who trians
under Paul Ereng at the University of Oregon at El Paso, was third. But Kenya
had two wild cards: Rudisha as World Champion and Ferguson Rotich who is the
Diamond League Champion. So Athletics Kenya (AK) dropped Saruni, and Rudisha
came in with a passionate call to AK to give it to Saruni and drop the older
guys, him or Rotich. In hindsight, AK should probably have listened to him.
Also, as Seb Coe said, injuries have no respect for reputation. And getting
back to the stadium where he set the track on fire would have been great for
King David.

I
love van Niekerk’s cockiness. I don’t want humble men and women in track and
field. So, to quote him, he’s his own competition in both 400 and 200m. Of
course, van Niekerk would destroy both Rudisha and Bolt in 400m. The man is the
world record holder for crying out loud, and we all know what Bolt thinks about
lactic acid after 200m. He could have run the distance but, well, here we have
him now only going for 100m. Any chance of a false-start under the heat of
Andre de Grasse in the final? That would make things even more interesting. And
if there is anyone to deny Bolt that chance to go out with a final gold in the
single event, it’s de Grasse. I want de Grasse to make it go down to the wire
but Bolt to win it. No flailing arms with de Grasse like it was with Justin
Gatlin in 2015.

Farah
is just a phenomenal runner. I don’t know what Geoffrey Kamworor can pull out
of his bag of tricks, but even if he did, Farah is always dangerous. I had
dreams of Caleb Mwangangi Ndiku downing him, but it’s now not going to happen
on the track. And here is where Kamworor, if it doesn’t work, he can always put
Farah behind him on the road in future. Good luck to Kamworor, though I don’t
envy him. I don’t envy any Kenyan running against Mo Farah.

Any
thoughts on the women’s 10,000m? Almaz Ayana?

C.B.: de Grasse won’t be
there unfortunately, struck down by injury. So that’s make things easier for
Bolt, I suppose.

But
about the 10 k, Bedan Karoki and Paul Tanui are experienced operators. They
could pull something out of the bag. And don’t forget that Farah is a better 5k
runner than he is a 10 k, so I’m thinking that maybe they should make it as
long a race as possible. Attack from the gun, and hope for the best. Of course,
because this is Farah, the only advice we can really give them is to run fast,
very fast.

Kamworor
is another proposition altogether. Remember, he has beaten Farah before, in
Cardiff last year, in fact didn’t Tanui come second after him, and Farah third?
But that was half marathon, and we’ve already worked out that Farah is stronger
in shorter long-distance races.

But
yeah, if there’s somebody I think could beat him, it’s Kamworor. Ndiku’s a
favorite of mine, but he hasn’t had good luck with injuries and fitness over
the last year or two. Kamworor came second to Farah at the world’s in 2015, and
he should have put in a stronger challenge in Rio. So, as long as he doesn’t
wilt again, he always stands a chance.

But
then again, this is Farah, a man that’s won 9 consecutive track distance
titles. So, advice to Kamworor would be, first, attack from the gun. The last
5000m in Rio was run in 13:12, and even Farah felt that pace. Attack from
say 1500m, or earlier, and you have a chance. Don’t let him the chance to
unleash that kick of his. Secondly, run fast, very fast.

About
Ayana, I like her. She absolutely blew the WR in Rio, 14 seconds was it?, and
while I don’t see a repeat of the same, watching her is always an excellent
experience. I’d love to see how Obiri fares against her in the 5000m.

And
isn’t Rudisha such a gentleman? Either that, or he doesn’t want to spoil his
memory of London. He wasn’t going to win anyway.

S.N.
: ​I don’t see Ayana repeating it. Injuries have followed her this
season and she hasn’t run any race to write home about. Also, Vivian
Cheruiyot’s retirement from the track threw it wide open. At the Kenyan trials,
the athletes were talking of doing it for Vivian, and I hope that will make
them go for it. The Pocket Rocket would be quite happy about that.

Today
we have the heats for 1500m women. And here, I won’t start with Kipyegon
because I have all the faith in her. So, Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands and
Ethiopia’s Genzebe Dibaba. I have seen Sifan very strong this season. She beat
Faith Kipyegon in the Paris Daimond League and this can’t be downplayed. Of
course, they will all reach the finals. I expect them to thrive. Then it will
light up there.

C.B.: Curiously though, do
you know that none of the athletes who finished in the top three positions at
the 10000m women Ethiopian trials has been selected for the games? Funny funny
country. Ayana hasn’t run properly for almost a year, but here she is.

Looking
forward to seeing what Kipyegon can do.

Also,
looking forward to seeing whether Elijah Manangoi can take a leaf out of his
brother’s book and win the 1500m gold over Kiprop.

But
first, Kamworor versus Sir Farah. He’s said he’s tired of silver. Let’s see
what happens.

S.N.: Ayana pulled something
dangerous in Rio. She’d broken the world record already in the 10,000m final,
but she still went all out hard in the 5,000m heats, as if running fast
mattered. Of course, that wore her out, and when she went all out in the final,
the exhaustion finally caught up with her. Or rather, Vivian Cheruiyot caught
up with her. She (Ayana) finished fourth in that race, which, for an athlete in
her form then, was quite disappointing. Perhaps that could be the reason for
her injuries, like Rudisha and everyone who chased him in London 2012.

The
Ethiopian federation could be relying on old names to do it, which is a blunder
in my view. It is also demoralizing that you won a trial but the federation had
other ideas. But well, perhaps wait and see what it will bring them? See you in
London then?


About:

Sanya Noel is an editor and writer at Enkare Review.

Carey Baraka is an editor and writer at Enkare Review.

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