The ‘enemy’ from within for Team Kenya at Rio 2016


US Kenyan-born soldier and Olympics athlete, Paul Chelimo
US Kenyan-born soldier and Olympics athlete, Paul Chelimo

Kenyans are accustomed to battling their neighbours from the north, Ethiopia for honours in mid and long distances races but at Rio 2016 Olympics, the competition will be closer to home with a slew of the country’s runners declaring for other nations.

Switching allegiance is nothing new as more Kenyan athletes turn to other nations to get the coveted chance to compete at international events owing to the domestic cut-throat competition.

Head coach Julius Kirwa believes that Kenyan-born athletes representing other foreign nations are not a threat to his team.

Head coach Julius Kirwa for Team Kenya in the forth-coming Summer Olympics games slated for August 12-21 believes that Kenyan-born athletes representing other foreign nations are not a threat to his team.

In the quest to search for greener pastures over 10 Kenyan athletes opted to change their allegiance to foreign nations to challenge the medals in the distance races at Rio 2016.

“Their presence is not a threat to my athletes. They are well prepared and they are very motivated and eager to bring the medals home. They chose other countries over Kenya to look for their daily bread, which is acceptable.

“I do not have the luxury to start worrying about them or considering them in my training programme. Our focus is on grabbing as many medals as possible,” the veteran head coach charged.

Well it is common to see a Kenyan-born athlete run for oil-rich Gulf States of Bahrain or Qatar, Turkey and USA have seen a spike in runner from the country competing in their colours in recent times.

America took the unfrequented step of fast-tracking citizenship application of three Kenyan-born soldiers Paul Chelimo, Shadrack Kipchirchir and Leonard Korir in time to compete in Rio 2016 while Lonah Chemtai will represent Israel.

Chelimo will be running the men 5000m event while Korir and Kipchirchir will try their hand in unseating British double Olympics champion, Mo Farah, from the men 10000m throne.

“Actually, my main goal was to represent the United States. Being an Olympian is the best way to represent America. That was the best program because I could do my career as a soldier and also focus on my talent,” Chelimo told the Voice of America.

Chemtai was awarded an Israeli citizenship through her husband and trainer, Dan Salpeter and she will line-up in the women’s marathon.

The 26-year-old Chemtai who travelled to Tel Aviv, Israel as a baby sitter for the Kenyan ambassador to Israel, is more than happy to represent her nation.

“I prefer training in Kenya but I have to follow what the coach says,” she said with a chuckle.

“Training in Kenya you have a lot of partners, you are in training group, and there is high altitude, not like here.” Chemtai said in an interview with Reuters.

In hopes of being recognized in the middle and long distance races too, Turkey did not mind in investing in a number of foreign athletes to increase their chances to bag the much sought after Olympics medals.

Seven Kenyans will join two Jamaicans and a Cuban in the hunt in a decision that did not sink well with the locals.

Additional reporting by Dennis Ohuru

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