Sports / In-Depth
Tuesday, 17 Jan 2017 18:03 EATjmoyi@kenyafreepress.com
Today, 17th January 2017 is your seventy-seventh birthday. It also happens to have been the birthday of another sporting icon, the late Muhammad Ali, who was born two years after you.
Your name, Hezekiel Kipchoge Keino (Kip, the flying cop), conjures up a lot of pride and patriotic feelings for Kenyans who lived through the sixties and early seventies. Not without reason.
For, Kip, you almost singlehandedly started off Kenya on the road to world athletics dominance in middle and long distance running. You burst onto the international athletics scene like a breath of fresh air. The scene was full of runners, mainly European and a few Americans, with their mechanical and staid running styles. Yours was a whole different, elegant and unabashed style. Although only 5ft 8inches tall, on the track you appeared 6 foot tall!
It was exhilarating watching you stride to victory after victory. You also added color to athletics with your famous orange cap, which you would throw away at the bell (on the penultimate lap) and then stride to the tape after destroying the field.
On 30th August, 1965 when you ran the third fastest mile in history (3:54.2), destroying a field comprising of most of the leading, The Times of London wrote, “The White City crowd were seeing a revolution in athletics, for Keino runs with primeval joy and strength, with full-blooded zest almost replacing tactics. Keino switched on his full power with more than a furlong to go and the field stretched.
“I got that old tremendous thrill when before your eyes you see men you know to be heroes in their own right turned into midgets as a superman is born……. Now Keino joins the band of immortals.”
To confirm the truth of this effusive praise, you broke the world 3,000 meters to record three months later in November of that year. You also went on to break the 5,000 meter world record. We, Kenyans were in seventh heaven, it was too good to be true. The pride you gave us was immeasurable.
Then came the 1968 Mexico Olympics, when Kenyan athletes announced their arrival on the biggest world stage. Kip, you were the captain and talisman of this team that set Kenya on the path to dominating world middle and long distance running. The dominance has been so great that the seminal book on world athletics, Lore of Running by Thomas Noakes, states: “In the years since Wilson Kiprugut won Kenya’s first Olympic Games, the dominance of distance running, by Kenyans especially, has become a phenomenon unequalled in any other sport in the world.”
Kip, you are the father of this global phenomenon that has perplexed the world and has been the subject of so many studies, by scientists, journalists and even charlatans from the world over. In 1968 Mexico Olympics, despite illness and disobeying doctors’ orders not to run, you defeated the virtually invincible American, Jim Ryun, in the 1500 meter race, winning by the widest margin and establishing a new Olympic record that was to stand for decades.
For the record, in Mexico, Kenya won three golds - in the 1500m (Kip), 10,000m (Naftali Temu) and 3,000 steeplechase (Amos Biwott), four silvers and one bronze, coming second in track and field behind the mighty USA. In 1972 at the Munich Olympics you proved your versatility by winning the punishing 3000m steeplechase and a silver in the 1500m race. In between these Olympics, you dazzled the world in the Commonwealth Games in 1500m and 5000m races (in 1966 and 1979) even when you were threatened with death.
As you can see, Kip, the memories that your name evokes are truly profound and wonderful. This country owes you an immense debt for your sublime talent, superlative performances and great example that you set, putting Kenya on the summit of world distance running. But, great Kip, this matter of the National Olympic Committee of Kenya (NOCK) is causing us, your loyal and longtime fans of yours, a lot of consternation.
It was a well-deserved honor for your selflessness and sacrifice for this country. But lately, how has NOCK performed? What is the image that comes to the mind of the world sporting fraternity when the name of the National Olympic Committee of Kenya is mentioned?
Let me state unequivocally - it’s a picture of a moribund organization comprising of totally incompetent, insular, reckless, arrogant, dishonest individuals who act with absolute impunity completely oblivious of the consequences of their actions. Kip, these colleagues of yours know that the only bright spark in the gloom that is NOCK, is you. The only shred of responsibility left is Kipchoge Keino.
It hardly bears repeating that a man is judged be the company he keeps: “Show me a man’s friends and I’ll tell you the kind of person he is.” Really, Kip, are you birds of a feather with these fellows? None of them is fit to hold a candle to you. When you look at them individually, what have they ever achieved? And what value have they brought to the sports organizations that they represent? Yet they have (mis)led these bodies for decades, in some instances.
They are holding you at ransom. Your name is the only thing shielding them from being thrown into the dustbin of history. A committee that has the following officials facing criminal charges (of theft and conspiracy) has no business being in office: 1st and 2nd vice-chairman, secretary-general, deputy secretary-general and treasurer. The only thing to do, if they have a shred of decency is to resign.
Kip, don’t listen to these globetrotting IOC officials who are calling for fair trials before any action is taken against them. One of the tenets of the IOC and any other reputable international organization is INTEGRITY. Fifa officials led by Sepp Blatter were ousted before any court found them guilty. IAAF ex-resident Lamine Diack was also forced out before any guilty verdict, just strong allegations of wrongdoing as in NOCK’s case.
NOCK’s bungling (and in many cases outright theft and corruption) has been with us for so long. Suffice to mention only the recent cases: 2011 All African Games in Maputo where the verdict of the Parliament probe barred most of these same officials from holding any public office. The 2012 London Olympics, same indictment.
For how long are we as a nation going to do nothing and subject our best ambassadors, our athletes to these uncaring and discredited officials? Kip, in all these bungling by NOCK, most Kenyans have steered clear of your exalted name. But for how long will your name remain sacrosanct?
Remember the Daily Nation of 1/9/2016? In it the Nation Sports desk appealed to the public to spare you the mess that was Rio: “Social media rubbishes, abuses and has given the old man a very negative publicity, which threatenes to spoil his gains of 50 years…” Need I add more? To put it bluntly, Kip in all this mess of NOCK, where does the buck stop? The buck (or responsibility) stops at the desk of NOCK’s senior most official.
Finally, let me be very candid and forthright: all this criminality, mismanagement and impunity could not have taken place, repeatedly, under your watch, without either of these two scenarios – either God forbid, you were part of the rot or else you were totally ignorant. Either scenario is untenable for you.
The best logical conclusion is that you are captive to these venal characters. Therefore and most unfortunate, the bad guys are winning and even dragging you to court to defend the indefensible! The only honourable option left is for you to RESIGN and let the overhaul by the government proceed. Forget the IOC ban threat, that’s a red herring, it won’t happen.
Kip, sorry to burden you with these weighty matters on your big day. Nevertheless, it’s on such days that one takes stock of life and maps the way forward. I end this heart-felt letter with this apt quotation: “There are two difficult things in the world. One is to make a name for oneself and the other is to keep it.”
Happy Birthday, Great Son of Kenya!!!!!
John is an editorial quality advisor at the Kenya Free Press.