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Learning 2012

Expectations which arise from impressive performance or a spell of great training, can result in an athlete’s target race going either one way or the other. Team GB and Kenyan performances from London 2012 provide plenty examples of how some athletes thrive under extreme pressure and others, for whatever reason, are unable to produce the goods when it matters. Despite not yet being at that level of competition, I am able to relate to and draw comparisons between the London 2012 Olympics and my own season.

Firstly, what an incredible Olympics it was – certainly the best I have witnessed in my 23 years on the planet. From organisation to determination and the inspirational to the spectacular, London 2012 had it all and was undoubtedly a resounding success. The added bonus for me is that I have a gut feeling that the Paralympics will inspire me further more.

Sir Steve Redgrave kicks off London 2012 by passing on the Olympic flame to stars of the future

As always with positive and successful events in life, there are always going to be negative people clutching at straws to find faults and criticisms. Thankfully these straws were the small kind you get with Ribena packs and the pessimists were drowned out by the billions of people who have been thrilled, inspired and motivated by the performance which London put on for the world. The stage was well and truly taken and I believe a generation has been inspired.

Whilst trying not to sound hypocritical, the only negative area which I will touch upon is that thankfully drugs cheats grabbed much less of the headlines than in previous years, however they were still there. It amazes me how Nadzeya Ostapchuk could have been naive enough to think that she would not get caught doping in this day and age. It baffles me equally as much that she could take satisfaction from winning a tainted medal and therefore deny other athletes their reward for years of hard work and sacrifice. Articles are going to be about the only ceremony Gong Lijiao of China will receive after she was bumped up from 4th to the Bronze medal position as a result of the Belarusian’s cheating in the women’s Shot Put competition. Valerie Adams of New Zealand was rightly promoted to Olympic Champion and Evgeniia Kolodko of Russia was moved up from bronze to silver.

Ostapchuk (centre) with her tainted medal

Anyway enough of the negative. What was most inspiring for me was that at one point during the Games, the north-east of Scotland would have been sitting 10th in the medal table had they been a nation. The reason this provides me with increased motivation is not because of some misguided pro-Scottish feeling, but because living in Kenya has showed me that when your neighbours achieve great things, this automatically raises the bar and sets the standard for others to go and at least match.

For whatever individual reasons, the Kenyan team did not enjoy the success they had hoped for and which they have become accustomed to. It was lovely to see that the message coming out of Olympic Marathon favourite (but finished 4th), Mary Keitany’s camp was along the lines of “win or lose, it will always be together.” Another example was in the men’s Marathon where pre race favourite, Wilson Kipsang (bronze medallist) said afterwards: “some days you win and some days you don’t.” We can learn a great deal from the Kenyan attitude despite their relative lack of success in London 2012, as I am sure it has played a huge role in their past triumphs.

My summer track season started promisingly after returning in late May from 3 months of altitude training in Kenya. I enjoyed 5-6 weeks of personal bests and winning performances but unfortunately suffered from chest infections and bugs for the best part of a month after that. Now back fully fit and training well I felt disappointed after relatively good performances in the Division 1 British Athletics League match on Saturday just past in Windsor. Having had a few days to reflect and take on board advice from my Dad/co-coach, Mel Edwards and my other coach, Grant Smith I have realised that you cannot expect personal bests in every race just because you are feeling in great shape. With 2 races left this season (BMC 800 metres tonight in Watford and BMC 1500 metres in Bedford on Saturday) I aim to relax, stay positive but not overly optimistic and just go out there and enjoy my racing and hopefully a personal best or two might come in tandem.

Maybe, and I hope, one day there will be no need for me to draw these comparisons between the world’s best and my own.

David Rudisha leads home the fastest 800m race in history in what was ‘only’ one of two gold medals for the Kenyan team in London

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Kenya: Where dreams become aims. What motivates the Kenyan athlete?

Photo courtesy of Rob Henwood, BodyHelix Europe.

By Myles Edwards.  Reporting from Iten, Kenya.

Interview published on runnerslife.co.uk Wednesday 21st March, 2012.

Every athlete has a goal.  However, the motives behind each individual sportsman and woman dedicating such large quantities of their lives to sporting pursuits vary enormously.  Whether it be in search of fame, money, a sense of achievement, weight loss or a way to vent and release stress or frustration which has arisen from other areas of their lives – millions of individuals all over the world choose to push their mind, body and souls to the limit in search of their ultimate goal.

Having spent five of the past seven months training at altitude in Iten, Kenya in pursuit of my personal goals in the world of athletics, it has become clear to me that these reasons and motives not only vary depending on the individual but also derive from the athlete’s country of origin.

A question I am often asked is why do so many Kenyans opt to pursue a career in athletics? Is it for financial benefit?  To be the best they can be? Or simply to fill in time? These are just a few of the many questions which follow up the original.

Kenyans see athletics as the fastest, most realistic and, in some cases, only vehicle to a better life.  ‘Making it’ takes on a whole different meaning to a Kenyan athlete compared to that of their British counterparts.  Starting out as a competitive athlete in the UK, aged 9, I wanted to win, have fun and do my parents proud.  In Kenya it can be a matter of life or death.  For this reason it is not surprising that without fail, 3 times each day you will see large groups of athletes stampeding along the red dirt roads of Iten, trying to run their way to a better life.  They can see all around them, the financial success that can be achieved through running and in particular marathon running.  They see the big cars, the land and the status which their neighbours have achieved through running.  They say to themselves ‘I am Kenyan, I can do this too’.  One race can set you up for life.

Reports suggest that Samuel Wanjiru, a hero to many Kenyans but who’s life sadly came to a tragic end in 2011, was earning up to 2million Kenyan shillings (over  £15,500) per month as a teenager from his Toyota contract alone.  A good quality acre of farming land in Kenya can cost around 300,000ksh (around £2,200).

While there is no doubt that the financial side of the sport is a hugely influential factor in motivating Kenyan athletes to be the best and drive them out of poverty, there is still a very special characteristic which is evident in every top runner I have spoken with during my time here.  Despite the vast levels of success that many have enjoyed, they still continue to push themselves to new limits and chase new world records when they could quite easily sit back, relax and enjoy their wealth.

Speaking with the second fastest marathon runner in history, Wilson Kipsang, he said:

“We as athletes have aims and expectations which become higher and more ambitious as we achieve.  Now my ambition is the world marathon record.

“It takes discipline and hard work.  I am a very focused guy, when I want something I go out there and work hard to get it.”

World half-marathon record holder and reigning London Marathon champion, Mary Keitany, also possesses this infectious, burning desire to succeed at the very top of the sport.

Her coach, Gabriele Nicola, provided great insight into the reasons behind her success and emphasised just how important this determined attitude is when chasing new feats:

“Mary is talented, she is light and she has a big engine.  Some people are born to run fast.  However, on top of this she has a professional attitude and great discipline.  There is no secret.  Talent is useless for people if they do not have the correct attitude.”

Kenya and its people continue to teach me that in order to achieve your goals in athletics and indeed life, you need to push yourself to new limits – but crucially, to also train smart in order to avoid injury.  Finding this balance is key and it is something which many of the athletes I have met place a paramount level of importance on.   It truly is a special country and a place which can help turn your dreams into realistic, concrete aims.

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