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O'Connell highlights challenges in Kenya's athletics

O'Connell highlights challenges in Kenya's athletics


In 40 years, Colm O’Connell trained a large part of the biggest Kenyan champions, he has winesed the evolution of athletics in his country of adoption with its inevitable drift in doping.

Every morning, Connell, 67, used to go to the Saint Patrick’s Day school, on the foothills of the rift valley, 2,400m in height,with his athletes , among whom is Olympic champion in 800m, David Rudisha.

This Irish missionary adopted his intuitive approach of training even at the time when technology had been infused into the modern sport.

When I arrived, the Kenyan athletics was in a bad shape.Kenya, at the time was beginning to draw attention on the international scene in 1968 Mexico Olympics with some in the 1,500 m, 3,000 m steeplechase in 1972.

He was able to produce about thirty Olympic champions, Peter Rono, Wilson Kipketer, Linet Masai and Janet Jepkosgei and many more.

A member of the brothers of Saint Patrick’s Day, O’Connell arrived at Iten, Kenya in June, 1976 to teach geography.

At the time, he knew nothing of athletics, he trained a local school team. He later trained students of Saint Patrick High School between 1986 and 1993. Three years later, he began to train professional athletes.

He said the country was a bit disengaged from athletics at the time, adding that Kenya in 1984, came back from the Los Angeles Olympic with a golden medal won by Julius Korir on 3,000m steeplechase.

Four years later, Peter Rono one of his athletes gave Colm his first Olympic title in Seoul, on 1,500m in 1989.

“The fact is that athletics became professional at the end of the 1980s. It was a very important turning point, Before that, Kenyans learned essentially from some institutions in order to develop. They learnt especially from the talent of older athletes: the American university system, the armed forces, the police and the prison system,” he said.

He said people at the time began to understand that they could live on the profession. He also began to recruit young athletes from all the rift valley in the country.

It could be recalled that in 1990s and 2000, there was huge money in athletics which brought about an influx of new athletes. With the new number, doping made its appearance.

Since 2012, about thirty Kenyans, second-class athletes , with the exception of marathon star Rita Jeptoo, were suspended for doping.