NAIROBI, Kenya, Jul 13 – Kenya’s 100m national record holder Mark Otieno hopes he can get a slot to compete at September’s Kip Keino Classic to be staged in Nairobi, one of the stops for the innugural World Athletics Continental Tour.
Otieno has only competed once this year due to the stoppages occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic and with a place in next year’s Tokyo Olympics topping his mind, he hopes to salvage his season with a race on home soil.
“I’m hoping I’ll be considered for the sprint events. There are international meets that could help, but it’s an uphill task getting an invite,” Otieno said during an interview with World Athletics.
In his sole 100m race this year, Odhiambo clocked 10.27 in Nairobi back in March, faster than he ever ran so early in the season. While he admits “if anything is certain right now, it’s that nothing is certain,” that time gives him great cause for optimism whenever he can get back on track.
Otieno has been training alone due to the lockdowns occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic, but even so, this is a phenomenon that he was already used to as his coach Owen Anderson lives in Michigan, USA.
And yet the arrangement works, through a combination of WhatsApps, emails and training videos flying back and forth across the Atlantic since they began working together in 2018.
But for Odhiambo, like many athletes elsewhere, his new normal is still a far cry from normality.
First, there’s the financial pressures of the pandemic. The 27-year-old may be the fastest Kenyan in history over 100m, with a personal best of 10.14, but that hasn’t been enough to sustain a full-time living.
“I work an 8-to-5 and balance it off with training,” he says. “It’s a tough lifestyle but with no sponsors, I can’t solely rely on my track career to make ends meet.”
His day job is in human resources with Kenya’s national postal service but that was put was on pause for much of the lockdown, leaving him without an income until recent weeks when Odhiambo resumed work.
Still, he found what opportunity he could in a crisis. Before the lockdown he trained with his wife, Stephanie Muluka-Odhiambo, at Kasarani Stadium, but when that closed down and all gyms were declared off limits, the sprinting couple had to be inventive.
“A school near where we live gave us access to their grounds,” he says. “It’s a small grass field but we were so thrilled that we had somewhere to do some runs.”
Early attraction to sprints
Odhiambo is an avid follower of the sport and he’d look on with envy at the facilities some of his peers had at their disposal elsewhere.
“They all seemed better equipped to deal with the quarantine. But I finally made a choice, picked myself up, got some money, went to a local welder and created some tools: plyometric boxes and some hurdles to use for drills. By changing my attitude I’ve been able to get my eyes off what I lack and actually be grateful for what I’ve been able to accomplish with so little.”
In a sense, that’s been the story of Odhiambo’s career.
He grew up in Sega, a rural area in western Kenya, and attended high school in Nairobi, where he juggled athletics with football. He tried just about every event at school, even a decathlon. “One of the most painful times in my career,” he says.
It was clear his true potential was in sprinting, which was a hard choice for some Kenyans to get their heads around. Odhiambo, though, was undeterred.
“I’m always been told my choice of distance as a Kenyan won’t attract sponsors or shoe contracts. So far they’ve been right, but I’m not willing to sacrifice the satisfaction and joy that comes with doing the 100m and 200m. If I finish my career with no sponsors, nor shoe deals, I’ll still be extremely grateful to God for the opportunity I had to pursue my dreams.”
-‘Mind-blowing’ London experience-
In 2015 he clocked a hand-timed 10.1 to finish second in the Kenyan trials for the World Championships in Beijing and the following year he lowered his official best to 10.39 to finish second at the Kenyan Championships. His big breakthrough came in 2017, Odhiambo clocking the Kenyan record of 10.14 to win the national 100m title in Nairobi, which booked his spot at the 2017 World Championships.
“London was mind-blowing for me,” he says. “Participating on that stage certainly changed me. Local meets seemed very easy mentally after that.”
Being based where he is, getting access to high-level races to hone his fitness ahead of major championships is a challenge.
”Kenya is known for its long-distance prowess and so most local meets are tailored to that,” he says. “As a result I only race a maximum of three races in a season before international championships. Showing up under-raced makes it hard to go past the qualifying rounds.”
For Odhiambo and his wife, the desire to succeed in sprinting has to be juggled with the financial need to make ends meet.
“The lowest moment was when my wife had to quit athletics to work a decent 8-5 job in order to help us with our living costs,” he says. “She loves the track life and it was hard seeing her shelf it. The break stalled her track dreams but I’m working with her now to help her achieve what she wanted.”
The couple take a keen interest in the next generation and through their involvement with a local church they work with teenagers, mentoring them and sharing what wisdom they can.
-Lack of high profile competitive opportunities
One of the big lessons from Odhiambo’s career is do what you can with whatever you have. For him, that means often training twice a day, squeezing workouts around his job. Most of his training is done on a grass field these days and for longer work he’ll go to Karura Forest. “It’s a vast forest land with low chances of getting infected or infecting others,” he says.
Europe beckons for South African rugby after Kiwi snub
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, Jul 20 – World Cup-winning Springbok Schalk Brits believes the future of South African rugby lies in Europe after New Zealand said there was no room for sides from the republic in Super Rugby.
“All of this jet lag and flying across different time zones just does not work,” said the hooker who retired after the triumphant 2019 World Cup campaign.
“We have got so many South Africans playing in Europe and it would be awesome to see them in action here for European clubs.”
With New Zealand favouring a trans-Tasman Super Rugby competition, South Africa Rugby chief executive Jurie Roux will address the media Tuesday about the way forward.
There has been no rugby in South Africa since mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic, which claimed 5,033 lives by late Sunday, the most in an African country.
Here, AFP Sport looks at the possibilities for the world champions Springboks and Super Rugby teams the Bulls, Lions, Sharks and Stormers.
There has been speculation that the six-round annual tournament will be cut to four matches with New Zealand and Australia playing in South Africa only every second year.
That would be a huge blow for SA Rugby coffers as the century-old rivalry with the All Blacks makes them a huge drawcard.
South Africa might consider abandoning the Championship and pursuing a suggestion by former All Blacks Justin Marshall and Jeff Wilson for three-Test tours between the great rivals.
“British and Irish Lions tours are so successful because we look forward to them,” noted another ex-All Black, John Kirwan. The same could be said of an All Blacks-Springboks series.
Should South African franchises move north, would the Springboks follow suit and apply to join England, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales in a ‘Seven Nations’ championship?
Having the world champions on board would surely excite the organisers and costs would be greatly reduced if the Springboks played their three away matches on consecutive weekends.
England, Ireland, France and Wales, in particular, would bring freshness for rugby followers, who have not rushed to the turnstiles for Championship visits by Australia and Argentina.
Ask the SA Rugby treasurer for his ‘dream’ line-up and he would surely say a multi-Test tour by the All Blacks and participation in the ‘Seven Nations’.
Although not official yet, the reality is that New Zealand want to play some Australian sides and the Pacific Islands in a new competition while excluding South Africa and Argentina.
The original version, a Super 10 between 1993 and 1995, was a superb competition, but constant tinkering and expansion has led to waning interest in a difficult-to-follow event.
Even those supporting the Golden Lions of South Africa could not have derived too much satisfaction from a 94-7 thrashing of Japanese visitors the Sunwolves three years ago.
South Africa sides often battled with time differences in Australasia — New Zealand is 11 hours ahead of the republic — and were weary after four-match tours.
Pro14 chief executive Martin Anayi says he would welcome Super Rugby ‘rejects’ the Bulls, Lions, Sharks and Stormers into an expanded edition.
“The tournament works well but could be even better if we added some South African teams,” he said, referring to a competition that also includes Irish, Italian, Scottish and Welsh teams.
But there may be no room for the two current South African Pro14 participants, the Cheetahs and Kings, who have experienced very different fortunes.
While the Cheetahs have been competitive, the Kings won just four of 55 matches in three seasons with some of the losing margins embarrassing.
The domestic competition has survived constant format changes to remain the vital ‘nursery’ from which Springboks emerge.
First staged in 1892, it was the bedrock of South African rugby until the dawn of professionalism after the 1995 Rugby World Cup.
As Test and Super Rugby fixtures took up an increasing amount of the season, the Currie Cup often battled for calendar space.
But it survived and this year could feature the four Super Rugby sides plus the Cheetahs, Kings, Griquas and Pumas, if play is possible amid the coronavirus.
Kenya records highest number of deaths from Covid-19
Kenya’s coronavirus cases rise to 13,771 after 418 more infections
Kenya on Monday reported 418 more Covid-19 infections, raising the country’s tally to 13,771 since the virus was first confirmed on March 13.
Health Chief Administrative Secretary (CAS) Rashid Aman also reported four more deaths, raising the toll to 238. He rectified an earlier report about 19 deaths in a single day, which would have been the highest number ever recorded in Kenya.
The 418 new patients were found following the testing of 2,474 samples in the last 24 hours.
Four hundred and eight of them were Kenyans and 10 foreigners while male patients numbered 263 and female patients 155.
Dr Aman also announced that 494 patients had been discharged, raising the country’s total number of recoveries to 5,616.
Of the recovered patients, 465 were under home care and the rest in hospitals.
More to follow